"Like I'm going to start off most press conferences like this," Coach Rick Stansbury said. "Nothing comes easy for us, it's obvious but I'm proud we found ways to get a W."
The obvious way was through MSU's trademark treys, which made for the margin of victory as four Bulldogs combined for ten longballs compared to just four for Detroit. Guard Riley Benock hit three threes en route to 13 points, and forward Kodi Augustus and backup guard Jalen Steele added two each. Senior forward Augustus barely missed a third double-double of the season with 10 points and nine rebounds.
Johnson led all scorers for the evening yet came in a half-point under his average in the first two victories. But he was also more efficient than usual with 10-of-15 shooting overall and 3-of-6 arc accuracy, against a Titan team that mixed zone and man defenses. Johnson said he was prepared for both.
"I just understand a lot more, we go over scouting reports and see how guys are going to play us and what I have to do in the game. I just take that to mind when I get on the floor. We knew they were going to switch up defenses a lot and we were ready for it."
Not just Johnson, either, a Benock in particular took a more prominent place in the offense this evening. "I've been here four years and this is the first time he's been shooting it like that," Johnson said. "I'm loving it!"
Four Titan starters scored in double-digits led by Calliste with 20 points and all four of his team's treys. Chase Simon had 17 points but was 8-of-23 from the floor getting there, while Ray McCallum had 16 points on 8-of-16 accuracy. Stansbury didn't mind those totals because the Bulldogs had the inside covered. 6-10 Titan center Eli Holman managed five points on as many shots, on a 17.7 points average.
"I thought we did as good a job as we could do on their big kid," Stansbury said. "We held him to five points and he hadn't scored at halftime." The Titans didn't help their cause much at the foul line either, missing seven of 15 chances.
The Bulldogs made 60% of their first ten shots, but even better all four three-point attempts with a pair of Augustus treys in taking a 18-12 lead after five minutes. Detroit answered by extending their own offense with Calliste throwing in their first three, before he added an old-style three point play at 14:08 to tie things up. A couple of Simon jumpers even had the Titans ahead by four.
Fortunately State's speed on perimeter defense disrupted Detroit sufficiently to coax four turnovers in a five-possession series. The Bulldogs were able to use the break and move back in front, with Johnson slashing for two buckets and Benock adding a three. Working inside the arc Augustus popped for a 38-28 lead at the four-minute mark.
State's outside touch had to cool off and did, but even better defending on the interior forced more Titan mistakes and the Dogs were able to take a 40-32 intermission margin.
Whatever was said in each locker room resulted in some pretty poor play to open the period, with more missed free throws and turnovers by both sides than buckets. Detroit got in gear a little sooner and chipped their deficit down to a pair, 48-46 at 14:08. That roused the Bulldogs to better effort at each end as well, though center Wendell Lewis' clean block was called goaltending to Stansbury's astonishment.
Johnson had an emphatic answer, slashing from the corner for a stuff, foul and free throw; then using a top-screen for three more points and a 63-56 score that had Detroit calling time. "We started off a little slow and they were playing a little physical with us and we couldn't get into our sets," Johnson said. "So I just did what I had to do to get points for the team." And State's lead reached a dozen when Johnson pulled up on a 3-on-2 break to stick another threeball…
…before the home side of the scoreboard froze at 76 points for the over four minutes minutes. Meanwhile Calliste went on a rampage, sticking treys on three straight trips with another jumper in an 11-point run of his own. He got a layup to roll at 1:18 but missed the foul shot, keeping State up by 76-73 into the final minute. It would matter.
After a shot clock foul Detroit had possession and 39.7 left to make something happen. The best thing that could have happened for State was Calliste not to get a shot, and he didn't. Not via defense, but because MSU center Elgin Bailey fouled Holman for a 1-and-1 at 32.8. The Titan pivot missed his first chance and Augustus got both the carom and a foul with MSU in the bonus. His two freebies had the Dogs up by five again.
Just as key was the single made free shot by Brian Bryant at 19.7 seconds to make it a two-score margin. Simon aided the cause by missing one of two chances also, and Steele knocked down a pair at ten ticks that effectively sealed the victory.
Though Johnson's big night stood out, it was the complementary points by Benock and Steel (nine points) the coach noted. "We had somebody else step up and give us points." Benock also did some good defense on Calliste much of the evening, and if the Titans managed to overall out-shoot State 49% to 46% the longballs made up for that entirely.
"Besides that defensively we found ways form keeping the big guy from killing us," Stansbury said. "They shot a season-high on us, but a good stat we out-rebounded them." 41 to 35, that is.
"We just have to keep finding ways to hide things we don't do very well and do things that fits what we can do with this team," said Stansbury. "It's going to be a mix and a match and a change every game for us."
The next matchup for MSU is Friday evening with a 6:00 tipoff against Troy. There is a $5 special ticket available for walk-up sale, and children will be admitted free to the day-after-Thanksgiving game.