State's Roberts too much for Bulldogs

ATHENS — Mississippi State didn't know if Lawrence Roberts would play Wednesday night. Georgia wishes he hadn't.

Roberts, the preseason SEC player of the year, returned from a minor knee injury and scored 19 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as Mississippi State beat Georgia 76-62 in Stegeman Coliseum.

"He's a terrific player," coach Dennis Felton said. "He's one of the best players in the country. It takes a concerted effort to slow him down, but I have a hard time focusing on anything but our effort, which was not good enough."Felton was most troubled by the Bulldogs' 45-25 rebounding deficit, but he was also upset by 18 turnovers and Mississippi State's 12 fast-break points.

"It was a pretty careless performance by us in every way," he said, "so it was a missed opportunity."

Georgia (8-16, 2-11 SEC) plays its final home game of the season Wednesday against Florida.

Mississippi State (19-8, 7-6) didn't know if Roberts would play until the pregame warmup, when the senior forward pronounced to the coaching staff that he felt good enough to go. And go he did.

He played a team-high 36 minutes and hit his third 3-pointer of the conference season with 4:15 left in the game to put his team up 68-58 and officially snuff out Georgia's hopes for the upset.

"That broke our back," said Georgia center Dave Bliss.

All seven of Roberts' second-half points came in the final 5:26.

"I had no idea he would play 36 minutes, but every time I asked him if he wanted a blow, he said, ‘No,'" Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "That's what I wanted to hear. He is exhausted right now, I'll tell you that."

The Bulldogs led for much of the first half but were outscored 15-6 in the final 4:30 and trailed 43-36 at halftime. They pulled as close as four in the second half, making the score 48-44 on a bucket by Levi Stukes with 13:48 left. Mississippi State then scored eight straight points to extend its lead to 12 points.

"It's frustrating because we had them pegged perfectly," Bliss said. "We knew exactly what to do and how to do it, and we didn't do it."

Georgia pulled back within five as late as the 7:29 mark when Channing Toney made two free throws to make the score 61-56, but Roberts scored all of his second-half points in the next four and a half minutes to end the threat.

"We certainly took a step backward tonight as a team," Felton said. "We didn't compete hard enough on defense and didn't do the very things we were prepared to do. We took a major step backward in our growth and maturity tonight."

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