"He was a man among boys," Coach Rick Stansbury said. "Everything that was shot was his." For that matter almost everything Roberts shot was good. He made 9-of-12 attempts for a game-best 22 points, en route to his fifth ‘double-double' of the season and NCAA-leading 43rd. The 20 boards doubled his league-leading average of 10.0.
"I just went out there and played hard," Roberts said. "If you do that you'll accomplish a lot."
The senior forward accomplished a whole lot in relatively little playing time, just 24 minutes. He did most of his damage in a huge first half with 15 rebounds and an identical points total, and had already recorded the double-double at the ten-minute mark, staking his team to a double-digit lead in the process.
And Roberts did more than board and score; he blocked three Gamecock shots in the first half and added three assists and steals each by the time he sat down, with over 11 minutes remaining.
"I just wanted to stay aggressive, I knew it was one of those games we could control on defense. I tried to attack hard, Coach told me before the game he wanted to see me get 15 rebounds in the first half. I told him, I got them!"
The Jackson game was played on what technically was a neutral site, but practically a home-away-from-home for the Bulldogs. A crowd of 7,597 watched—and cheered—as State led tip-to-horn for a fifth-straight win, and a 11-2 record. JSU fell to 4-7.
Three more Dogs scored in double-figures, with 12 points for guard Winsome Frazier and 11 each for forward Shane Power and point guard Gary Ervin. The latter also had ten assists, his second-straight game to hand out double-digit scoring passes. "I told them I'll get you the ball any time if you're open enough to make a shot," Ervin said. "And the guys did a good job of that." Good enough for State to shoot 54%, and the starters to hit 25-of-41 attempts.
Yet afterwards all that the players really wanted to discuss was what happened on the other end of the court. "We had a goal of holding them to 58 today," Power said, "and we had some consequences if we didn't!" Power did not say why that figure was chosen, or what the penalties would have been. But the Dogs did clamp down on the Gamecocks, holding them under that goal and 21 points shy of their season average, and claiming a 59-21 win on the glass.
And when JSU missed shots, State made them pay. "It started on the defensive end," said Ervin. "It got us easy baskets on offense."
The scoring came easy and early, starting right from tipoff as Ervin lobbed to Roberts for an alley-oop layup. The Gamecocks fell behind 6-0 before getting any points, and the first basket actually came off an accidental tip-in by Roberts…points he couldn't be credited for, unfortunately.
Otherwise when JSU missed the Dogs were able to play their fastbreaking game, finding open shots off the first pass before the defense could set up. Roberts ran wild inside while Frazier drained a couple of early treys and State ran out out a 18-4 lead.
"We were getting stops, and that allows us to play in transition," Stansbury said. "We got a lot of easy baskets to start the half, we weren't allowing them to get back in zone." Even when the Gamecocks did scramble into position there was a gap in the middle to be exploited repeatedly, and not just by big Dogs. Twice Ervin went all the way to the hole for layups in traffic and a 24-10 lead.
A three-pointer briefly cut JSU's deficit into single digits, but State responded with a trey and layup by Power. The lead would reach a first-half high of 20 points on Harper free throws at 4:45, and the Bulldogs took a 44-28 cushion into the locker room.
Yet despite the lopsided score and certain victory, halftime talk was about doing even better when play resumed. "We wanted to come out and do a good job," Roberts said. "We wanted to be aggressive on defense, knowing the offense would come around."
They did, and it did. For six amazing minutes State shut JSU out while scoring 17 unanswered points to blow their lead out to 59-28. The Gamecocks did not get a second-period point until 13:52 when Dorien Brown just beat the (non-working) shot clock with a layup.
"We came out the second half and did what you're supposed to," Stansbury said, "put a Jacksonville State team away." Brandon Davis led JSU with 15 points and Brown added 13.
In turn the coach was able to put more players in the game, as by 8:47 with the lead 72-35 there was not a starter left on the floor. Freshman Charles Rhodes, the lone Dog not to play in Monday night's rout of Florida A&M, saw his first action after missing three games. The Jackson native subbed in at 11:19 of the second half, replacing Roberts, and instantly scored by nudging in a lob from Ervin. Rookie Walter Sharpe saw seven minute's activity also.
"It's good to get those guys in the game," the coach said. "Charles is a young player, and he played with some emotion. That dunk may have made his whole game."
Before the night was done every dressed-out Dog on the road trip had logged at least two minute's work. All but one of them, off-guard Jamall Edmondson, managed to score a basket. "Overall there were some positive things out there," Stansbury said. "I'm pleased we were able to come out and play the way we did, the second half in particular."
Coach and team alike were pleased with the crowd, which showed up on a bad-weather night in midweek. "We're appreciative to have the turnout we had," said Stansbury. "It's something special to our team, our program, to go on the road and have this kind of enthusiasm."
The Bulldogs take a brief break for Christmas and return to action December 30 in the Sugar Bowl Classic, for their third-straight year to play in the New Orleans event. This 2004 Classic is a SEC vs. ACC affair, with Mississippi State playing Virginia Tech at 6:30 and Louisiana State facing Florida State afterwards. Both games will be televised by Fox Sports Net.
"We won't have eight days off," Stansbury warned. "We will give them some Christmas break time, but we'll come back on the 26th and practice before we go to New Orleans."