Terrance Saulsberry came off the bench to pace Arkansas State (6-3) and matched Austin with a game-high 20 points. Guard Nick Rivers added 19 points for the Indians, but was held to just two points in the second stanza.
"Arkansas State is an excellent basketball team. They have great size, great shooters and great depth."
The victory marked MSU's first 8-0 start since the 1998-99 season and pushed the Bulldogs to within three victories of matching the school-record 11-0 start by the 1957-58 ballclub. The game marked the 10th meeting between MSU and Arkansas State and the first since the 1958-59 season. The Bulldogs now lead the all-time series, 8-2.
"This game was a tale of two halves," said Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury. "In the first half, Nick Rivers was unbelievable for them and hit everything. But, we made an adjustment at halftime and put Derrick Zimmerman on him and he did a nice job of shutting Rivers down in the second half."
Mississippi State scored 12 of the game's first 17 points to take control early, but Arkansas State got back to within three points on a Kolin Weaver tip-in at the 11:11 mark. The Bulldogs grabbed an 11-point advantage on an Austin layup with 8:29 remaining, but Arkansas State hung around and used an 11-5 run in the waning moments of the stanza to take a 46-45 lead, MSU's first deficit in six home games this season, into the break.
Mississippi State scored the first five points of the second half to take a lead it would never relinquish. A pair of Austin free throws with 12:11 remaining ignited the Bulldogs on a 9-0 run that gave the hosts a 12-point lead with 10:06 left, before Ignerski's free throw three minutes later pushed the lead out to a game-high 14 points.
"We had a good effort and I am proud of our guys," said Arkansas State head coach Dickey Nutt. "I feel that we could have done some things in the second half to hold our lead and continue to play the way we wanted to play, but you have to give credit to Mississippi State. I thought they turned up their defense in the second half. They are extremely athletic. They are, by far, the best team that we have played so far this year."
The Bulldogs will return to action next Saturday when the squad travels to Southaven to take on visiting Louisiana-Monroe in the first round of the inaugural Las Vegas Classic. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. at the DeSoto Civic Center.
MSU COACH RICK STANSBURY QUOTES:
"I said this to our team before we started and after the game was over was even more convinced of it, Arkansas State is an excellent basketball team. They have great shooters, great size, great depth and experience. I think they are going to be the team to beat in the Sunbelt Conference."
"It was a game of two halves. In the first half we got the league at nine, then had some guys who lost their match-ups and allowed them to cut it back. Then they got it going. Rivers was unbelievable for them. The second half was another game. Derrick Zimmerman did a fantastic job on Rivers. I believe he had one basket in the second half, and I believe that was a layup. At halftime, we were out-rebounded by seven. In the second half we outrebounded them by nineteen. In the first sixteen minutes of the second half we gave up 19 points. That was the difference in the basketball game. We defended and rebounded and that helped up get some baskets in transition. I thought we did a very good job attacking their zones. We got the lead late in the game and then made a few mistakes, but it was a quality win against a very good basketball team."
What was Derrick Zimmerman doing differently in the second half to defend Rivers?
Rick Stansbury: "We put him on Rivers. In the first half we had (Marckell Patterson and Timmy Bowers) on him. We put (Zimmerman) on him late in the first half. We made up our mind in the second half that if we were going to forget helping in the post, get help side we were going to front and if they beat us on a lob they would beat us but we weren't going to let Rivers beat us. We limited his touches and that was the key. He is an excellent player. He came into this game averaging 21 points per game. I'm not sure if there is a guard in our league that is as good as that guy when he got going."
It looked like you had five players in double figures so you spread the ball around quite a bit.
Rick Stansbury: "We had guys come off the bench who did good. Lincoln Smith, Ontario Harper and Timmy Bowers came off the bench mid-way in the second half and gave us great defensive presence and really helped us extend that lead to 13 or 14. That is what we have to had from our bench. I thought Lincoln did an excellent job on the (Jason Jennings) while he was in there."
You mentioned previously that you wanted to get Michael Ignerski more involved in the offense. He had 19 points today.
Rick Stansbury: "They started the game with Jennings on Ignerski. That was a match-up we liked. We went to that match-up quite a bit early in the game. The second half they didn't do that match-up. They went to the zone."
Your team trailed at halftime but came back in the second half. Did you like how your team responded in the second half?
Rick Stansbury: "No question. I liked the way we responded. We held that team to 19 points in the first 16 minutes of the second half. We defended and rebounded well. When you are defending and rebounding, it helps your offense. When it became an urgent situation, we stepped it up. The first half we had the game well in hand but didn't play with the same urgency, defensively. We have got to continue to do that no matter what the lead is."
How important was to your team to shoot 44 free throws?
Rick Stansbury: "Free throw shooting is always important. I love it when they make them. It is very, very important. We did the same thing at Richmond. I thought Derrick Zimmerman stepped up, he was 10-of-14. Austin was 4-of-4."
You are 8-0. What do you think about where this team is right now?
Rick Stansbury: "You can always improve as a team and this team has a long way to go. Getting Timmy back is important. He is probably about 75% to 80% where he was before he got hurt. Just getting him back has helped. We have another young man who will be eligible the next game, Roy Goffer. He can give us a spark. He gives us something, more so, than anybody on our team and that is shooting the basketball. He gives us more skill. We have to find a way for that to work."
DERRICK ZIMMERMAN QUOTES:
Talk about your defense in the second half.
Derrick Zimmerman: "Rivers came in as a big-time scorer but we didn't know that he was that big-time of a shooter until he came out and made some early shots. He got off to a hot start and we had guys who weren't defending him that well. When we came in at halftime, I told Coach that I wanted him. In the second half I played good defense and shut him down.
"When I saw him I said no way he is 6-1 and he is real skinny. I tried to physically overmatch him. I knew if he drove to the lane I could contest his shot. The main thing I wanted to do was contest his three-point shot and I did that. You saw the outcome because he only had two points in the second half."
You made 14 points tonight.
Derrick Zimmerman: "Early in the game I missed some easy shots. That happens in a game. But I made some free throws."
ARKANSAS STATE COACH DICKEY NUTT QUOTES:
"I'm disappointed for the loss for our team. Give Rick Stansbury's team a lot of credit. I thought they played really hard. I thought they played disciplined. They played very physical. We learned some things today. I don't take anything away from our guys because they played with a lot of heart. I told them after the game if they continued to play with that kind of fight and heart, we are going to be in some games. I thought (State's) gameplan in the second half was the difference in the game. Not allowing Rivers to touch the basketball hurt us in the second half."
Coach Stansbury mentioned that the Ignerski - Jennings match-up was a match-up that favored Mississippi State.
Dickey Nutt: "We felt like Mario (Austin) was such an outstanding player that (Jason Jennings) would be in foul trouble due to his size and quickness. We really wanted to try and double him but due to their offense we couldn't do that. (Michael Ignerski) did a great job of trying to exploit our weaknesses and shooting the basketball.
"We tried to mix it up but they were very disciplined against our zone. They didn't surrender to the three-point shot. They got the basketball inside just about when they wanted to. They are a good team. They are well-balanced."
About the game:
Dickey Nutt: "We thought for the first twenty minutes we did ok with the exception of giving up 45 points. It was the rebounding where we really got hammered in the second half. If you don't just textbook rebound against Mississippi State you are going to get in trouble because they really, really rebound the basketball. I thought going in our mind-set was really for that but in the second half it just kind of got out of hand."
What do you think they did to take Rivers out of the game in the second half?
Dickey Nutt: "I not only think they stopped him but they stopped everybody in the second half. It wasn't just Nick, it was the entire team. We have to get to the basket. We can't allow a team to defend us on the dribble. We have to get to the paint and shoot free throws. The game wasn't Nick Rivers or Mario Austin or (Michael Ignerski) or anybody else. The game was determined by the free throws. We have got to get to the basket and somebody is going to have to guard us on the dribble and somebody is going to have to pick up fouls and go to the line."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.