Hyped enough to survive a couple of Privateer comebacks and stamp out a 67-59 victory at Humphrey Coliseum. A midweek crowd of 3,241 watched Mississippi State snap a two-game losing streak and improve to 4-2 while UNO, making their first visit to The Hump since 1988, left 1-3. State also earned a win over the Privateers for a third-straight year.
Some sideline observers noted the red ink staining a hand of each Bulldog early in the game, and naturally wondered if it signified where State's players had ‘prepared' the evening before. It turned out the mark was a Stansbury inspiration, and even coaches, managers, and trainers had to be stamped before gametime. Gimmicky, maybe, but even veteran Dogs bought it.
"It was something we needed, a little motivation," said senior guard Jamall Edmondson, who put up a career-high 26 points with six three-point baskets in the win. "It worked. Coach wanted to win as bad as we did, we just had to get up for this game."
"For everything going on it's a huge win for us," said Stansbury, who had seen his shorthanded squad fall to Northwestern State and Southeastern Louisiana in previous home games. He still had only nine bodies available for this contest, too and was "major-league concerned" as Stansbury put it. So with few options in gameplan or roster, the coach tried a motivational trick. "I don't know if challenged is the word," he said "We did do one little thing, we all stamped our hands with ‘toughness'."
"I looked down at it every time I got tired and played hard," said Delk, who scored 14 of his 16 points in the first half and added four treys to the team total. "We'd lost two games at home and had to come out and get this win."
Freshman forward Jamont Gordon had 12 more points for State, which shot a season-best 49% and hit 11-of-21 attempts at the arc. This, after missing 15 of 16 trey-tries two nights earlier. The longballs were what gave the Bulldogs double-digit leads in each half, and while each got away State also had enough toughness on the backboards with a 41-33 rebound advantage to hang on in the end.
"It's obvious they found a way," Stansbury said. "They've learned a little from these previous two games. And when you make shots it makes the world go around."
The Privateers didn't make as many shots, hitting 37% and going 7-of-23 at the arc. All-American candidate guard Bo McCalebb, who came in averaging 21.7 points, was held to a season-low 11 as he missed 13 of 18 shots. Four Privateers got into double-digits but the highest tally was 12 by guard Dusty Driggs, who got all his points on longballs.
Just nine Dogs were dressed, as veterans Dietric Slater and Piotr Stelmach remain sidelined with ankle injuries. But that was one more body than on Monday, and a big body at that with soph forward/center Charles Rhodes returning to duty. He scored six points with four rebounds in 25 minutes, but his presence made a big difference in both rotating post-players and opening up the court for teammates.
"He gave us a low-post scorer so they had to double-down and he kicked it out for easier shots," said Edmondson, who along with Delk profited immediately from Rhodes' return. After miserable shooting nights Monday the two guards each had a trio of treys and the entire team was 10-of-11 from the floor as State bolted to a 26-10 lead at 12:16.
Six minutes later the lead was gone and the Dogs were fighting for their lives. An open trey by Driggs ignited a 17-0 Privateer surge, aided in no small degree by MSU mistakes at each end. As the margin tightened UNO also got out of their zone defense to pressure State's tiring guards. A jumpshot by Jacob Manning at 5:36 put the Privateers in front for the first time, 30-29, and Driggs followed with another three-ball.
Delk responded by attacking the goal for a driving banker at 4:25, State's first basket since 10:37, then followed with a three-pointer to regain MSU's lead. A baseline jumper by center Vernon Goodridge let the Dogs lead 41-38 at intermission, but unlike their first half the home team couldn't buy a bucket to begin the second until Gordon stepped out for a trey at 14:57.
Fortunately the Privateers had also been cold, so a Goodridge dunk and five Edmondson points let State slide in front 51-46. By 8:17 the margin was again ten points, and with UNO going scorless for some five minutes the Bulldogs were able to increase the cushion to 63-48, aided by a bizarre series. Delk missed the front end of a 1-and-1 but the UNO forward catching the carom forgot the situation and tossed the ball to the referee standing out of bounds—a turnover. Edmondson made it hurt by sticking his last trey.
The Privateers weren't quite done as Driggs and James Parlow banged in three-pointers that had Stansbury calling time at 2:34 to settle his troops…who still managed consecutive turnovers. Parlow threw in another longball and with 1:45 still to play the lead was down to 65-59, and the Dogs gave it away again. But center Wesley Morgan blocked McCaleb's driving shot in the lane and Gordon drew a foul at 1:10 and made one foul shot. Parlow rushed a 24-footer that rattled off. Gordon added another free pitch at 0:53 and Driggs couldn't get his trey-try to drop.
"We held on defensively," Stansbury said. The Dogs played an entire game of zone defense to limit exertions as much as practical, and UNO helped by playing a good bit of zone as well. Still State threw the ball away 23 times, which played the biggest part in keeping the visitors in contention. "Almost as quick as we got (at lead) we lost it!" Stansbury said.
Just not the game. UNO Coach Monte Towe, who earned a technical in the second half, was frustrated that his team settled for so many long-shots. "There's more to it than jacking up threes and losing," he said. "It was another tough night for us and a good win for Mississippi State. They were desperate to win like we were. I thought we could have won this game and we just didn't finish."
"It's always good to win a game," Stansbury said. "But the most important thing was for us to come out the sixth game in 13 days and off two losses and perform the way we performed. I couldn't be more proud."
The Bulldogs will have Thursday off, then practice Friday for a weekend home game with Santa Clara at 1:00. Stansbury said Slater and guard Richard Delk are out "for sure" for the weekend, while Stelmach has a chance of playing Saturday.
The coach did not say if there will be another hand-stamping before that game. But it certainly made an impression on his team this night. "It worked," said Delk. "We came out with energy, confidence, and knowing we had to play hard."