Short-handed Dogs Edge West Florida 76-73

Rick Stansbury expected to make use of his freshman class early and often this season. Still the Mississippi State coach would rather not have to count on rookies playing as many minutes or in such demanding roles as they did Saturday afternoon.

Fortunately three of the touted five-man class were up to the challenge, and the opportunity, as State held off scrappy West Florida 76-73 in the second and final exhibition game of preseason. Freshman Reginald Delk, Richard Delk and Jamont Gordon all scored in double-figures, which combined with comparable contributions by a couple of elder Dogs was enough to defeat the visiting Argonauts.

Rather, just enough. "That was a good education for us," Stansbury said after his team struggled to beat a Division II opponent. "We knew it would be and that's what it turned out to be."

State was forced to count on freshman faces more than intended because Stansbury had a limited roster to call on. Senior guard Jamall Edmondson pulled a groin muscle in practice and junior guard Michael Boler had to sit out a second exhibition with an injured shoulder. Meanwhile redshirt forward Jerrell Houston was serving a two-game suspension and soph center Walter Sharpe is ineligible until at least mid-December.

That left just nine scholarship Dogs available, and as things played out seven of these took care of all but 17 minutes. "We had to adjust to the situation," said forward Piotr Stelmach. "We played a kind of short squad today, but the freshmen stepped up to their roles and played great."

The coach wasn't as impressed with the players or the overall play. "I don't know if there's any element of game that we're pleased with," Stansbury said. "I do understand I had to play basically three freshmen a lot of time."

Two of them as starters. Richard Delk moved into Edmondson's starting point guard job and put in 33 minutes, scoring 12 points by making six of his eight shots from the floor. "I did alright," Delk said. "I didn't want to shoot too much, I wanted to stay inside a little more. I had way too many turnovers but other than that I did alright." He did match his six giveaways with six assists, and generally ran the offense well.

Fellow frosh Jamont Gordon took his second tipoff in as many exhibitions, at small forward, and managed ten points in 35 minutes. He only made 3 of 11 shots, 1-of-5 from the arc and clearly forced several attempts inside and out. "I think he's pressing, not getting a lot of shots and the ones he does get are bad," noted Stansbury. But the stocky Gordon did muscle for seven rebounds and blocked a pair of shots. Reggie Delk outscored both his backcourt counterparts with 13 points off the bench in 28 minutes, going 5-of-10 with a pair of treys.

"Those three guys got a lot of minutes today," Stansbury said.

They also got some much-needed help from older underclassmen, particularly Stelmach. In his second exhibition start the junior had a team-best 15 points though he took only six shots. He added seven rebounds and made six of seven free throws, most when the Argonauts were making second-half runs at the home team.

"I took my chances, I saw the situation," said Stelmach, who was 6-of-7 shooting a week ago in a 80-55 win over West Georgia. "I tried to do my job." So did soph forward/center Charles Rhodes who added 13 points with a game-high eight rebounds.

Five Dogs in double-digits were sufficient to offset a West Florida squad that nearly shot their way to a preseason upset of the SEC host. The Argonauts hit 11 three-point baskets and all three starting guards finished with 16 points each and eight treys between them. "They made shots and things worked," said Stansbury. "Some of it was good shots, and some of it bad defense."

There certainly wasn't much in the way of D from these Dogs as West Florida shot 48% overall and 46% from the arc. The Argonauts did make good shots, but they also got far too many open looks and even uncontested baskets at the expense of a State team that often looked lost. Because they were. "Coach said we had a lot of defensive slippage today," Stelmach said.

"They've got a nice offense where they're cutting and stuff, so you get tired out there," said Reginald Delk. The ‘Princeton' style offense inevitably baffled the freshmen on court, but even veterans lost track of their men and allowed WFU to make the game uncomfortable almost all the way through. The Argonauts even held leads four times in the opening six minutes.

A trey by Richard Delk and foul shots by Slater had State up by 18-12, and with 6:06 on the clock a Reggie Delk dunk produced a 28-18 score and the longest lead of the day. Then the Argonaut guards combined for four consecutive treys, some from pro range, and drew within a point. Richard Delk had to hit a trey for State to take a 36-32 halftime lead, with three combined turnovers by the teams in the last minute of the period.

Takeaways were how the Bulldogs built some cushion to open the last half. After another trey had the margin at 38-35, Stelmach blocked a shot and at the other end boarded and scored a Dietric Slater miss. A midcourt steal became a snowbird dunk for Rhodes, and Gordon free throws pushed the lead out to 44-35 by 14:56. The Argonauts didn't let the Dogs run away yet, taking advantage of lax defense for two easy layups and then popping a pair of jumpers.

State settled for matching baskets and Delk hit a pair of pull-ups while Rhodes lost his man and jammed again. Still when Russell sank a pair of free throws it was a 53-52 game at 10:54. Even after a three-point play by Stelmach and lob-dunk by Rhodes WFU was able to take and make long shots and stay within a point.

The Bulldogs appeared to have things under control with 6:13 left after Gordon canned his lone trey, Rhodes muscled for a layup, and Richard Delk made good on one more pullup. But up 70-61 State lost control and nearly all the lead by not scoring for four minutes until Slater barely beat the shot clock with a 23-foot heave that swished at 1:38. The Argos answered with a threeball of their own and a fastbreak, drawing within 73-70 at 1:02.

It took Stelmach feeding Reggie Delk for a layup and a Slater free throw to provide the margin as with two second left WFU got a meaningless trey. Starting guards Donovan Redden, Maurice Thomas, and Kashif Russell scored 16 points apiece with four, two, and two treys respectively. Forward Brandon Gordon had 14 more WFU points.

State shot 46% for the game and while the Dogs were under 30% at the arc they did limit long shots to just 17, a somewhat-better balance than in the first exhibition which saw 27 longballs attempted out of 61 total shots.

The other two MSU freshmen, forward Bernard Rimmer and center Vernon Goodridge, put in 14 and 3 minutes respectively without scoring. Each missed their only shot and both had a rebound. Thus the other seven did almost all the work. "We just had to play with the people we had," said Stelmach, "and I think we played good for the players we had today."

"But that was good for us," said Stansbury of the narrow outcome against a D-II team. "That's kind of where we're at. Hopefully get a couple of guys back because next Saturday we open the real schedule against a good team in Chattanooga."

State opens the regular season against UTC at 7:00 this coming Saturday, the first of six games (five at home) in an 11-day November stretch.

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