Of course it was a better way to start preseason play than with a loss. And after a brief opening challenge from the Senators, a NAIA-level team, the Bulldogs were clearly in charge…if not entirely under control. Junior forward Charles Rhodes set the offensive pace with 24 points while three other Dogs finished with double-digit points. State was up 42-28 at intermission and led by as many as 32 points in the last half.
Still there wasn't much smiling from coach afterwards. Nor the players. "I wouldn't feel too happy either if a team turned the ball over 34 times," Rhodes said. He added eight rebounds and five of the 11 shots State blocked.
Half of those giveaways came from the two Dogs playing point. Soph starter Jamont Gordon came within a rebound of a triple-double, though not a good one. Besides his 16 points and nine boards, Gordon was charged with ten turnovers in 28 minutes. His backup, freshman Ben Hansbrough, scored 15 points but had seven turnovers. Each had four assists to somewhat offset the miscues, but…
"We were all in a hurry," Hansbrough admitted. "It was the first game and things change a lot."
Actually Stansbury anticipated some issues keeping his team on a good pace, and not just because it was their first time to play a opponent. "Give Auburn-Montgomery credit. Those little guards are quick and it caused us to speed up all night long." The result too often was runaway and throwaway play. "Way, way too many times," Stansbury said, and not just from the point guards. "We had total slippage by too many people."
Soph guard Richard Delk added 13 points, hitting half of State's six treys. Starting forward Piotr Stelmach added nine points with a game-best 12 rebounds, as AUM's small lineup paid the price on the glass by a whopping 64-32 margin. "We established ourselves as a rebounding team," Rhodes said.
Gordon got things started with consecutive baskets but the Senators weren't intimidated and soon led 7-6, with the ball. The advantage was short-lived; a missed AUM layup was followed by a Stelmach bankshot putting State back in front.
Rhodes then took charge with a block, break, and dunk. Stansbury's first substitute of the evening certainly worked out as Hansbrough fed Phil Turner for a trey and then bounced to Barry Stewart for a baseline layup and 18-9 score. That's when the Bulldogs got impatient, throwing up several missed longballs, and the Senators cut the deficit to 20-7 at 9:10.
Reginald Delk stopped the surge by sticking a pair a treys and the Bulldogs were able to take that 14-point lead into their locker room. It was a 15-point difference at 16:20 of the second half when Gordon managed to draw fouls and convert four free throws, sparking a steady surge that pushed the lead to 20, then 25, and 30 points. While the Bulldogs were scoring points the Senators were losing players to fouls, with three eventually disqualified and a total of 34 personals charged.
One was a flagrant foul, called at 11:43 when AUM's center Elmir Forto hit Rhodes in the chest and was sent to the showers early. The Bulldogs scored 32 points from the foul stripe, on 45 shots. Rhodes took 15 of those attempts making 10, to go with his 7-of-9 shooting from the field.
State finished with 49% shooting but Stansbury still wasn't happy. "We didn't get the ball inside enough," he noted. "And the rebounding margin looks bad, but I didn't think we rebounded great still."
Guard Joseph Manuel was the lone Senator in double-figures with 22 points. AUM was just 20-of-79 from the field, taking a startling 28 more shots than did the Dogs. The difference was due to all the free shots awarded State, as well as those turnovers.
Stansbury substituted reasonably early in the evening and gave freshman guards Phil Turner and Barry Stewart good minutes. The coach said Stewart was the coolest of the rookies and played more under control than any of the perimeter Dogs. And while Hansbrough's stats looked good, Stansbury was still unhappy about how he and most others let themselves get caught up in the first-night excitement and lost control.
"A lot of things have got to be corrected," Stansbury said. "Hey, that's why we played this team. We knew they would be good defensively and get into us. It's good learning things we can teach."
Two Dogs were held out of action. Junior center Vernon Goodridge had tonsillitis, and freshman forward Jarvis Varnado is injured. Stansbury hopes Varnado will be able to play Saturday when State concludes exhibition season with a 6:00 game against Oklahoma City.