Dogs Light Up Blazers 101-76 In Exhibition

Renardo Sidney intended giving the home folk, and home team fans, a real exhibition. "I thought I was going to get 30 and 20!" the Jackson native said. Unfortunately lingering effects of his year-and-a-half layoff literally cramped his style and Sidney settled for 15 minutes in Mississippi State's 101-76 exhibition victory over Belhaven University.

Making his first serious appearance in a Mississippi State uniform, the 6-10 sophomore center scored ten points with six rebounds and a blocked shot in his time on the Mississippi Coliseum court. Time limited by leg cramps that struck midway of the second half, at that. Yet it's safe to guess that most of the 4,318 who watched did not leave talking about the 29 points and six three-point buckets hit by Bulldog senior Ravern Johnson.

Or, the 26 points and five treys by junior guard Dee Bost in his own 2010-11 debut. Or even the remarkable show-stealing effort by Belhaven guard Rob Wallace as he hit six longballs as well and put up a game-best 31 points.

No, Sidney was the center of all attention Wednesday, as well as the central reason Mississippi State delayed the second exhibition game of this season to a mid-December date. With his NCAA suspension of one full year and 30% of this schedule served, the former prep All-American is now officially activated and part of the Bulldog lineup at last.

The starting lineup, too. Coach Rick Stansbury inserted the newest member of the roster into the tipoff team to get Sidney's season started. Mixed results were not a surprise. "He did OK. OK," Stansbury said. "It's very obvious the fatigue factor, he tired early and that affected everything he did. But I understand where he's at, if you haven't played a real game in nine months it's going to affect you."

Not that this was a real game, of course. But the local team certainly gave their very best shot, and shots, in trying to put on their own exhibition. Belhaven led for most of the first half, until the Bulldogs went on a 13-0 run to finish the period.

"They gave us a punch in the face but we responded well," Johnson said. "Everybody started knocking down shot and playing better defense, and we got on top of them."

"Give Belhaven some credit," said Stansbury. "They came out ready to play, and the little kid Wallace is good, he made shots." Made 11-of-24 shots to be exact, and 6-of-12 at the arc. Forward Britton Smith added the other Blazer trey and 11 points, and the shorter Belhaven squad wasn't exactly crushed on the glass with State only having a 43-35 edge. State played without starting center Elgin Bailey and starting guard Riley Benock, both taking the night off for badly-needed rest…and opening the lineup for Sidney and Bost of course. That contributed to a lot of sloppy execution by the Bulldogs.

"But we found a way to pick it up, get some stops," Stansbury said. "Ravern started making some shots and Dee started making some plays that loosened it up."

The Coliseum crowd really wanted Sidney to loosen up and live up to his all-world billing. Teammates certainly tried to let Sidney set the early offensive tone, and he did…just not as hoped with an errant lob and two more misses. And despite proud pregame claims of playing the whole game Sidney needed to sit by 16:36. Meanwhile Belhaven notched the night's first six points, and that before Wallace got really loosened up. His jumpshot barrage made it a ten-point margin.

Even after Sidney got his first basket on a dunk, Wallace matched it with a layup for his 14th point; more than MSU's team had at the time with a 23-13 scoreboard at 11:32. It took Bost sticking a longball to get something really started for State and even then the comeback took time. It also produced some attitude on each side. Belhaven's tenth foul meant a chest-to-chest confrontation of Johnson and Blazer Collins, with a technical assessed to each. Wallace and Bost each sank free throws, then Johnson got to shoot his pair for a 29-25 deficit at 8:19.

The Blazers were able to maintain a margin as late as 38-35, before the Bulldogs finally took control. Emphatically. Bost put his own miss back to trigger a 13-0 run with the junior guard providing seven of the points and Augustus the go-ahead trey in between. State took a 48-38 lead into their locker room, despite 21 points from Wallace.

The Bulldogs kept it up to open the new half with Johnson hammering another pair of treys for a 62-45 score at the 16-minute break. Belhaven was able to chop the deficit to nine, during which Sidney went down with cramps. Johnson's legs were just fine though as he spotted for a pair of threefers; and his bomb at 4:50 made it a 88-67 difference.

From there it was merely a matter of who could throw up the most threes, who would break the 100 mark (Shaun Smith did at 2.4 seconds), and what reserve center John Riek could get done in trash time. He finished with eight points, same as Wendell Lewis who had a game-best 11 rebounds. Augustus added 11 points with seven boards.

Yet all that mattered was Sid the Kid's first show. After the first three misses he made four of his six other shots and a pair of free throws, and had one big block in the first half. This despite showing early on that he's far from game-shape.

"Man, I was cramping bad. I've got a long way to go. It'd calm down and I'd go back in, then I'd jump one or two times and it'd come back." But on the whole Sidney saw things about the game itself to encourage both him and the team about what is still in store for State this season.

"I was excited and these guys did a great job getting me the ball," he said, noting Johnson and Bost sitting to either side. "Playing alongside these two guys, we're going to be unstoppable." Bost won't be able to play again until January 8 and the SEC season opener against Alabama. He expects to resume his point guard role and had nine assists in the exhibition, but also slide over to off-guard a lot so junior Brian Bryant can distribute. And Bost dreams of getting the ball to the big Sid.

"I saw a lot of talent, when he gets in shape he'll be more effective for us," said Bost, who added he'll have to track his teammates from long distance while the rest of the Bulldogs begin an extended stretch of games in the Bahamas, Hawaii, and Las Vegas. "So I'll have to cheer them on from home!"

Stansbury said that Riek won't make the Saturday game with Virginia Tech in the Bahamas due to passport issues, but the 7-1 soph can join the team in Hawaii. This weekend is the real start for Sidney, and State needs to get as many minutes from him as possible against the Hokies.

"We're going to use him every way we can," said Stansbury. "But it's obvious he has to get himself better to not just go longer periods but to be effective. We saw some spurts, I didn't see anything tonight that I know he's capable of doing, he's so much more capable of doing so many things I see when he's fresh."

"I know it's going to be way tougher than tonight's game," Sidney said. "Virginia Tech is going to come out playing hard and it's going to be a fast paced game." Still the Bulldogs are delighted that the big guy is activated at last and ready to play his part in the next phase of Mississippi State's season. And by January, Bost returns for real.

"It's going to be crazy when we're all back together," Johnson smiled.

The Bulldogs bussed to Memphis after Wednesday's show-game, and were to fly out at 6:00 Thursday.

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