State improved to 8-2 with the win, while the Privateers fell to 3-4 losing at home…though the visiting team had a huge advantage in the grandstands, with at least two-thirds of the 1,571 crowd coming to boost the Bulldogs. And while the fans cheered the offense, Coach Rick Stansbury was clear about how his team won away from home.
"We did what you have to do on the road," the coach said. "We defended and rebounded in the second half to win the game."
The Dogs certainly did that, limiting the Privateers to 33% shooting and 17 boards in the second period. Mississippi State wasn't a whole lot better offensively after halftime, but by limiting second chances and creating turnovers they controlled play sufficiently to hold off repeated UNO rallies and easy away to the victory.
"I thought we had good balance again tonight," Power said. "We hit Lawrence every chance we could, and when they started doubling-down myself, Jamall and Winsome were able to knock down some shots."
State did knock down several shots, particularly long ones, making 11 of 24 tries from the three-point line. Power and Frazier had three treys each, while Edmondson stuck a season-best four including three very timely threes in the first half. "I just tried to do what I do best," the junior said. "I knew I had to come in and make some shots."
The Bulldogs needed perimeter scoring from Edmondson and company because much of the evening the Privateers tried to take Roberts out of the game. State's All-American forward was trapped on the baseline by UNO's tight 2-3 zone, taking just two shots—making neither—in the first half. He was also frustrated into seven turnovers trying to go to the goal or throw the ball back out.
But when the big Dog did get going, he took control at each end. "The second half Lawrence went to war on the backboards," said Stansbury. "When he's rebounding and working like that he's easier to get the ball to." Roberts finished with 11 rebounds, and came on strong in the last 15 minutes to hit 4-of-7 shots and score his fourth ‘double-double' of the season.
"We did a good job defensively and in return got some good offensive sets," Roberts said. "We really got patient and got some easy shots."
Nothing much came easy for State early, largely due to the Privateer zone. And to Jacob McCalebb. The sophomore guard was UNO's offense in the first half, taking enough shots to score 14 points by intermission and keep his team in contention. ""We couldn't defend him the first half," Stansbury said, "that's why he's the preseason player of the year in their league. And he got into the middle of our defense, caused big guys to help and allowed them to get offensive rebounds. The second half we did a better job containing him, and we rebounded the basketball."
McCalebb scored only one more basket after intermission, finishing with a team-best 16 points. Guard Chad Barnes added 15, hitting five of his seven trey-tries, and guard Jamie McNeilly 10 more points.
UNO's defensive strategy didn't surprise the Dogs but it did aggravate them into missing four of the first five shots. "We were ready to come out and go at it, get up-and-down," Roberts said. Instead State fell behind 9-2 and then 11-6, when Frazier pumped up a trey that swished as he was fouled by McNeilly. The four-point play at 15:56 cut the deficit to 11-10, and Gary Ervin took a rebound end-to-end for a go-ahead layup.
The score stayed close though as State had more problems making shots, missing four hurried treys attempts. It took defense to get the offense going, as an Edmondson steal became a Harper layup, and after Roberts blocked a UNO layup Edmondson canned his first three-ball for a 23-15 lead. New Orleans stuck with the zone even after Power subbed in and sank a trey.
Stansbury then put both his point guards, Ervin and Edmondson, on court at the same time and the latter was able to spot up at the top of the key. He hit two-straight treys for a 34-21 lead at the five-minute mark. "That's probably the first time we've had him and Gary out there together," the coach said, "we haven't even practiced much with him."
Still the Privateers were game and a couple of McNeilly baskets cut the deficit to 43-35 at halftime. "We gave up too many points at the end of the first half," Stansbury said. "We let them hang around and get some confidence." That carried over into the second half with UNO getting within five points before Roberts drew a charge to negate a McCalebb basket. Moments later Roberts scored his first two-pointer, at 16:29.
With Roberts getting into an offensive groove at last State was able to stay in front by two-to-four baskets, and Edmondson and Frazier contributed treys from opposite corners midway of the half. Still the home team got back within 58-52, before Roberts turned a Frazier steal into a dunk at 6:18. Now State dropped into a zone, Ben Elias missed a quick trey, and Roberts drew a foul as he slammed the ball through again.
His three-point play inflated the lead to 66-52 with 5:23 left. The 8-0 run effectively put State in charge to stay, as UNO was only able to get as close as ten points at 66-56 and 69-59.
"We got in an offensive rhythm," said Power, "got some stops and that carried through the rest of the game." Power and Roberts sealed the outcome with free throws, though this night the Dogs made more treys than they did foul shots.
"We knocked down some shots in the first half," Ervin said, "and in the second half everybody was confident." The Bulldogs finished with a 44-38 edge on the boards, and shot 43.5% overall and 45.8% from the arc. Roberts collected his 42nd career ‘double-double', which still leads active NCAA players. "He's done a better job the last few games playing in double-teams," Power noted.
"Mississippi State is a good team," said UNO Coach Monte Towe. "They are going to beat a lot of teams this year. It was kind of pick their poison for them, whether they were going to beat us inside or outside." It was State's latest win in the New Orleans city limits, counting SEC Tournaments and Sugar Bowl Classics, but the first in UNO's Lakefront Arena. The last time the Dogs had been in this building, in 1990, they played the Privateers in the second round of the NIT. The coach of that Dog team, Richard Williams, was at the game to watch State win.
"Any time you go on the road it's never easy," Stansbury said. And the Bulldogs are staying on the road a while longer, heading north for their next activity, traveling to Cincinnati for a Saturday contest with Xavier. Gametime is 8:00 ET/7:00 CT, with a ESPN2 telecast. The game concludes a three-year, three-game series between the schools.
State is back on the homecourt next Monday evening, hosting Florida A&M at 7:30 in the final home non-SEC contest. The men's game also caps a tripleheader in The Hump, with the final day of the Lady Bulldog's MSU Classic playing the consolation and championship games.