"The biggest thing was when the game was on the line, our kids responded," MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. "We saw some situations that we really wanted to work on. When the game was on the line in the second half and again in overtime, we made some really good defensive plays."
MSU's Timmy Bowers missed a short jumper to end regulation play at 74-74. A Humphrey Coliseum crowd of 4,104 then saw the Bulldogs dominate in the extra period.
Marcus Campbell scored a basket to open overtime. Columbus took its last lead at 77-76 on a basket by former Georgia standout Ezra Williams.
The Bulldogs then took control with a critical shot deflection and steal by Shane Power. Winsome Frazier also had a critical theft in the extra period. Branden Vincent hit two free throws to give State the lead for good at 78-77. Bowers hit two more free throws, followed by another Campbell basket, while Vincent sank two free throws to seal the win.
Bowers, a senior from Gulfport, led the Bulldogs in scoring with 20 points. His outside shooting kept State alive in a tightly-contested second half. Bowers hit eight of 19 shots for the game and drained a pair of three-point baskets.
The inside play of Campbell and preseason Wooden Award candidate Lawrence Roberts proved critical in the opening half. The Bulldogs jumped to their biggest lead at 27-18 on a pair of free throws by Roberts. Columbus battled back to trail 35-31 at halftime.
"This was a good win for us," said Bowers, who also had seven rebounds, five assists and three steals in 41 minutes of play. "We were tested by a good team. Right now, we are trying to learn how to play together to become a better team."
Bowers caught fire midway through the second half, draining back-to-back baskets to fuel a 9-0 run. By the time Gary Ervin finished the run with a free throw, State led 60-54.
Behind the play of Tai Crutchfield, the Riverdragons quickly battled back. A 12-foot jumper by Crutchfield tied the game at 62-62. The teams would tie twice more in regulation.
The MSU victory ruined homecoming for a pair of former Bulldogs. Jeff Malone, the school's all-time leading scorer, is the coach for Columbus. Former MSU point guard Derrick Zimmerman, State's all-time assists leader, plays for the Riverdragons. Zimmerman had five points and three assists in 16 minutes of play.
"It was great to be back in Humphrey (Coliseum)," Malone said. "It meant a lot to me to see some old friends. I am sure Derrick felt the same way."
"Mississippi State has some great players," Malone continued. "They are quick and aggressive. Of course, we would have liked to have gotten the win. But we played well against a good team."
Campbell had 18 points and eight rebounds for the Bulldogs. Roberts, who fouled out early in overtime, added 17 points and nine rebounds. Frazier added 13 points and had a game-high four steals.
Former Maryland star Terence Morris led Columbus with 15 points. Erron Maxey had 13 points, while Courtney James added 10 points and eight rebounds.
MSU opens regular-season play next Saturday, Nov. 22 with a 7 p.m. home game against Tennessee-Martin of the Ohio Valley Conference.