"I didn't know he was the first," Coach Rick Stansbury said when notified of Roberts' feat. "That tells you enough about it already."
Roberts wrote his name, again, in MSU history with three minutes left in the Sunday game. He already had a double-double with 15 points and the 12 assists, and needed only one more rebound for the triplet. The opportunity came on a miss that Roberts boarded, only to miss his shot and have to snare another carom. This one he banked in while taking a hard foul at 2:57.
Lying on the floor the All-America forward pumped one fist, then used the other hand to tear off the mask protecting, somewhat, his broken nose. Roberts had to pull the mask on for a few more seconds to take the free throw, then he was allowed to sit down and enjoy the moment.
"I knew I had a triple-double," he said, explaining his excitement. "That, and I was ready to get out of the game and take the mask off!"
Roberts did a full afternoon's work in his 29 minutes. He only hit half his ten field goal tries, and was 0-of-3 in the first half. But the second period produced the Roberts who was 2004's SEC Player of the Year. "I think we made him mad," NSU Coach J.P. Piper said.
Actually Roberts was happy to play center-piece in State's offense, drawing Colonel defenders and finding open Bulldogs ready to shoot. "I've got great teammates," Roberts said. "We did a good job of passing and spacing. I told guys keep moving and we'll get some open shots."
State made enough of them to turn a close game into a blowout. The Colonels trailed just 37-29 at halftime and were within five points a minute into the last half. Then Winsome Frazier, freed by a pulled-in defense, sank an open three. A Gary Ervin layup and three-point play by Frazier added up to a 8-0 run and 46-33 lead by 16:18.
Nicholls State (0-1) canned seven treys in the second half so it took a while for the Bulldog lead to reach 20 points. That finally happened at 8:20 on a dunk by freshman Charles Rhodes, as Stansbury made liberal use of his bench. The longest lead was the final score as Billy Begley sank a trey at the buzzer.
Frazier had 13 points, though he was just 2-of-11 from the arc, while Jamall Edmondson came off the bench for a dozen points in his first game in The Hump. Ervin added 11 points with six assists. But the big playmaker was always Roberts, who accounted for half of State's 24 scoring passes.
"When you play unselfish, good things happen," Ervin said. And Roberts was willing to give up the ball, particularly when NSU double-teamed him around the basket. "He can hurt you so many ways," Stansbury said. "Most of the time he's going to make something good happen when he touches the ball."
"We just want to keep all options available," Roberts said, adding he has no intention of moving to point guard. "No, I'm going to be down on the block roughing it out."
Stansbury will be just as glad if Roberts doesn't play too rough for a while longer, though the coach does like the seniors' rebound totals in his first three games. Roberts is still bothered by the mask, the altered vision and the sweat that causes him to go through several headbands a game. Stansbury is more concerned that Roberts not damage the surgically-repaired nose further. "For the most part he's protecting it pretty well. And he's not afraid to stick his nose in there." Roberts will have to wear the mask for up to six weeks.
Stansbury purposely kept his star forward on the court even when Roberts asked for breathers, wanting to play the senior into condition. But he also substituted often and tried many different combinations of Bulldogs as Stansbury gets a better feel for the entire roster. This was a game he could afford to play that way.
"It was obvious we were superior, talent-wise and height-wise. They tried to neutralize that by spreading the floor and driving, and they had some guys that could shoot it." Big guard Stefan Blaszczynski had five treys and finished with 21 points for NSU, and Shawn King added 13 more points.
"I was a little concerned how much energy and emotion we'd come out and play with," Stansbury said, as his team did not get back from New York City until mid-Saturday. "I don't think we were at our best, the first half we had a whole lot of shots we missed."
But the Dogs recovered from 37% shooting in the first half to hit 65% in the last half, and they won the board-battle 45 to 39. Also, they recorded nine steals and turned the ball over just nine times, tired or not.
There's no rest immediately ahead, either, as State will be back in home-action Tuesday night hosting Missouri-Kansas City at 7:30. The game follows a women's game with Baylor at 5:00, so court time is at a premium the next two days. Stansbury said the Dogs need rest more than practice right now, but they will work out Monday anyway. "We just have to come out and survive it," he said. "Kansas City will be a much better team, I know that."