Not that Bryant made many mistakes in a long (37 minutes) evening's work. He hit 7-of-9 shots including both his three-point attempts, and was perfect at the free throw line. Not only that but the 6-3 quarterback actually led his team in rebounding with seven boards. On a night his coach was concerned about the team's energy, playing for a third-straight date, Bryant answered a lot of questions early.
"He played big the first half, he made some shots and played with a little confidence," Coach Rick Stansbury said. "Kind of like he was in control. That's what we need from him, you need your point guard to make plays."
Bryant didn't just make plays, he made the most impressive play of the whole affair with a running dunk at 4:17 of the last half. Checked out on the right wing, Bryant just slashed past and stuffed over NSU's Dantrell Thomas.
"I saw the lane open up because he was denying me to go into the pick," shrugged Bryant, as if it were no big deal.
What was a big Dog deal was the height margin, with three Colonel starters listed two or more inches lower than State's shortest starter, Bryant. This contributed not just to an overall 33-24 rebounding edge, but 13 second-chance points and 51% shooting for the game. At the same time the Bulldogs didn't ignore their standard offensive scheme of throwing in threes; they added eight to the season tally with five by wing guard Ravern Johnson en route to a game-best 23 points.
Nicholls State had balance on offense with four double-digit scorers, and even attempted more outside shots but with less success. Forward Anatoly Bose had a frustrating trip to Humphrey Coliseum, going 1-of-8 at the arc and 4-of-11 overall to score 17 points. That was tops on his team but well under his 25.4 average as Mississippi State threw a wide zone at the Colonels.
"It's much easier than playing man, you don't have to do as much running," Johnson said. "But mentally it's harder. I still think we played pretty tough defense." Tough enough that NSU shot just 42% and was 5-of-23 at the arc. Stansbury is not noted for loving zone defending, but given the five-day/five-game stretch his team is in the midst of and the Colonels' offensive approach it was the way to play this time.
"Tonight was a scary game in a lot of ways," Stansbury said. "If you guard them a certain way they're very difficult to defend. We didn't play one trip of man-to-man tonight. I thought our guys did a great job, we played a no-catch on Bose. He's the guy that gets them going. Keeping the ball out of his hands was huge."
Guard Ben Martin tried to make up the difference with four treys and 12 points on a 3.7 average. Forward Fred Hunter added 11 points and Thomas ten more off the bench.
Bryant signaled he was due for a big night by sticking his first two trey-tries. "It felt good, it gave me a little more confidence my shot was falling." From there it was Johnson breaking a 12-12 tie with his baseline jumper, then added five more points in a 12-5 Bulldog run. The shooting percentage was fair but rebounding even better with a 11-4 MSU margin early on.
Still Nicholls State stuck to their plan and as State tired the shots and boards started turning. Thomas worked the lane for six points in a 8-0 tear that briefly changed the lead, 27-26.
The proper response of course was kicking to Johnson for a pair of open threeballs. "That's my role, to knock down shots. Every time I got an open look it was falling tonight." So when Colonels came out to cover it left first center Wendell Lewis and then forward Kodi Augustus under the goal for layups and a 36-27 halftime advantage.
State pushed the lead to 43-30 to open the new half, and still held a double-digit margin at 10:00. Then consecutive turnovers and Colonel fastbreak scores had Stansbury calling timeout at 8:21 with the lead down to 47-41. Again it was Johnson taking charge with his fifth trey, and when center Elgin Bailey missed the second free shot Augustus was there to board and score for a 59-49 cushion inside three minutes.
Augustus had eight State points with four boards and a career-best five assists. Bailey and Lewis combined for all other Bulldog scoring and eight rebounds.
"We're just happy to escape, for the most part our kids stayed in control and we responded the one time they made a run at us," said Stanbury.
Now the Bulldogs have to respond yet again to the demanding schedule. Tuesday night it is Alabama A&M coming to the Hump for a 7:07 tipoff to be broadcast by CSS. Former Bulldog guard Shane Power will join Bart Gregory on the air. Mississippi State announced also that admission is free to all for the game, with season ticket holders having first call on their seats. "It'll be our fourth night and we just have to find a way to muster some energy and get another win," Stansbury said.
Energy is also why Bryant wasn't planning on celebrating his big Bulldog breakout too much, either. "I'll probably go get some rest and get ready for tomorrow."