The margin of victory was not all that different than in the first exhibition win, 97-63 over Florida Tech. For that matter Coach Rick Stansbury saw some other similar trends. The Bulldogs were a little slow defensively for one half, didn't rebound as well as should have been against a smaller team, and gave up too many points.
But at least another, more positive trend also continued. Mississippi State owned the second period.
"The second half was the difference because we couldn't stop them consistently the first half," Stansbury said. "They jumped up and made shots a lot of different ways. But the second half we got into them, we had a better pace and got in a rhythm offensively."
A good one, too. Six Bulldogs scored in double-digits, including all five starters. One of those, Rodney Hood, put up 17 points showing why the true freshman has earned the opening job at small forward already. But more impressive in another way was how guard Jalen Steele came off the bench to tie for leading scorer at 17 points. Soph Steele is coming off a late-freshman-season knee injury and long summer recovery.
"Everything still felt good," said Steele. "It's just a year's experience coming off the bench and knowing what I've go to do to help the team out." Which in this case meant sticking five of seven shots overall and 3-of-5 at the arc. Hood also had a trio of treys in five tries, and was 7-of-13 overall.
"I felt great about the game," said Hood. "The first three-pointer went down and I felt relaxed, I just played basketball." Good basketball too, his coach thought, though Stansbury did not that Hood "got a little education defensively" in the exhibition trying to check Bear forward Trevor Setty. "He played against a heady player who can shoot."
But so could, and did, Hood. "Rodney showed some versatility scoring. Jalen made some shots, Dee got it going some. So there were a lot of different pieces that you like. I don't have to depend on one or two guys."
Bost had 16 points with a pair of threes and four assists, while the starting frontcourt of Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie combined for 23 points. Moultrie had a game-best 11 boards as State rebounded, literally, from a 19-15 disadvantage on the glass to end up ahead 41-39. Sidney only played 17 minutes and Moultrie 28, as Stansbury got 21 minutes out of junior center Wendell Lewis off the bench while mixing frosh Rocquez Johnson in for 12 more minutes.
The NAIA Bears weren't fazed facing a NCAA top division team, not to mention a much bigger lineup, jumping to a 14-8 lead as Jamar Board and center Shane Burrell combined for ten of the points. State caught up at 10:37 with a rebound bucket from Sidney and thrice built five-point margins. Pikeville managed to avoid any real runs and at halftime it was a 40-38 Bulldog advantage.
Pikeville was still within 52-48 after a rebound bucket from Chris Watson, when the home team finally did what it was supposed to against a lower-level club. As the Bears rushed, and missed shots the Bulldogs kicked in the transition game. Bost hit a three and lobbed on another break to Lewis for a dunk. Steele was able to pull on a corner jumper for three points the easy way, then got three the hard way with an acrobatic looping layup, foul and free throw.
Setty finally ended his team's drought with a jumper but State was in total control at 67-50 and able to coast the remaining ten minutes. The final two of which allowed the ‘gold team' made up of scout squad Dogs to enjoy some live action, though they couldn't add any baskets to the final tally.
Setty had Pikeville's 18 point effort and six rebounds, while Board added 17 points. Burrell wasn't a factor after that fast start and fouled out with four points. As the game developed, particularly in the second half, the bigger Bears just wore down against a steady State string of substitutions. But that didn't diminish how much sharper the Bulldogs were after their intermission talk.
Such as how they handled the Pikeville zone defense that had thrown them a bit off in the first 15 or so minutes. The Bears had a little early luck with presses and traps but not after the break, as State had just two second-half turnovers.
"Our guys made some adjustments, we controlled the flow, we got some stops and got more rebounds and got out in transition," Stansbury said. "Everything was much better the second half. I don't want to make it a habit, but if you have to choose you want to be better in the second half."
Pikeville shot 50% in the first period, just 34% in the second while the Bulldogs were consistent on that end. Brian Bryant was the sixth double-figure Dog with 12 points and four assists whether complementing fellow starter Bost or running the show himself.
"That's our team this year," Bost said. "We're more versatile, we have a lot of guys who can score. So game in and game out we can have four, five maybe six guys in double-figures."
"Give Pikeville some credit," Stansbury said. "That's the reason why they're the defending national champion and picked to win it again."
Of course State was picked to win both their exhibitions. Three nights from now though it is showtime for real as Eastern Kentucky comes to Humphrey Coliseum for the schedule-opener. The 7:00 game is followed by a 6:00 Wednesday game with Akron, both contests part of the 2K Sport Classic tournament. Regardless of outcomes the Bulldogs will go on to New York City for a pair of mid-November games, but obviously they want to take two wins with them.
And preferably a complete roster, too. But two Dogs were missing this night. Freshman guard DeVille Smith checked into a Jackson hospital Thursday. "His head hurt, he's dizzy, he's had a hard time concentrating and remembering some things," Stansbury said. "It got to the point he basically couldn't go, we noticed it the past few days. The doctors are hoping they can figure this thing out, we just don't know what it is. But he's a tough kid."
Meanwhile freshman center Shaun Long was absent as well. "He has some personal problems and we let him go back home this weekend to tend to some things," was all Stansbury could offer. Smith is the much bigger, role-wise, loss as his coach calls him "a game-changer, offensively and defensively."
Otherwise exhibition season has been a success for Mississippi State. But as Stansbury reminded, it is over. "No more of those. The next one is real."