And the shooting could have been even better if the Bulldogs hadn't hurt their own offensive cause with 29 turnovers, most by a MSU team since a 1997 loss at Kentucky. "As you can see we're not a smooth-flowing team yet," Coach Rick Stansbury said. "But today was good for us to come out and do what we did."
Gordon epitomized the schizophrenic nature of the day. He made five of his seven shots and four out of six attempts from the three-point arc, and along with his 14 points had nine rebounds and seven assists. But he also was responsible for nine of the team's giveaways. Junior center Charles Rhodes also had 14 points with five boards, but he lost the ball ten times. "It was mainly on us," said Rhodes. "Like me. We were getting called for travels, charges. It didn't affect us."
Obviously not, though the 35-point margin of victory actually belied the fact that two minutes into the second half the Colonels had forced a 37-37 tie. From there, though, it was an all-Dogs day. "It was definitely two different games played in two different halves," Stansbury said. "The first half we turned the ball over too many times. But I thought we made some adjustments, after the first four minutes of the second half we had 25 possessions and we only turned it over twice."
Gordon admitted some of the problem was both the matchup, with NSU throwing a small lineup at State, and the mentality early on when the Dogs tried to pound the Colonels in set-up offense. "We were just out of control a little, we were trying to rush things. We knew we could beat this team but we were trying to force things."
Ironically, it was picking up the tempo in each half that forced a pace NSU couldn't match. "We knew they had slower guards and we worked on transition in practice," said soph guard Reginald Delk, "and then we got out there and ran." Delk also notched 14 points with a couple of threes, while freshman guard Barry Stewart hit two longballs of his own and scored 14 in his college debut. Rookie guard Ben Hansbrough added 10 points off the bench with two treys, as State went 12-of-26 from the arc overall.
The Bulldogs made it a sloppy start with a trio of turnovers in the opening minute alone. The Colonels took advantage and used Ryan Bathie baskets to take a 7-2 lead before Reg Delk sank a three. A three from starting forward Piotr Stelmach and Rhodes dunk tied things up 10-10 and Rhodes free throws at 13:22 put the Dogs in front for the first time, 14-13. Stansbury also went to the bench for three frosh on the floor. Stewart took a kickout pass from Rhodes and drained the threeball.
Still it was the surprisingly-patient Gordon who sparked a surge, taking and making his first shot of the season from the corner for three points. He banked in a pullup, then when the defender slipped he sank another trey for a 31-19 Bulldog lead at 6:35. "We were getting ball movement and in the zone they were leaving me open. I was surprised."
The Colonels didn't crack, answering with seven-straight points as Bathie hit a couple of buckets. Aaron Scott cut the deficit to three and NSU missed a trey to tie before halftime so State could take a 34-31 lead into the locker room. A couple of minutes into the new half the Colonels had evened it 37-37 on a reverse layup by Adonis Gray.
Reg Delk and Rhodes hit a free throw each to put State in front, to stay as it turned out. After Payne missed a trey for the lead Gordon took charge again by sticking a three from out front. Rhodes powered for two and Gordon was left alone on top. He hit at 13:48 and State was up by 48-37. Stewart and Hansbrough each tossed in a threeball, and consecutive steal-and-breaks by Gordon produced baskets for Richard Delk and Hansbrough and a twenty-point lead, 63-43, at 9:40.
"We came out and switched the screen," Gordon said. "They were back-cutting and we switched the screens and got a couple of steals and scored in transition."
This time the Colonels had no answers. A three-point play off a rebound by Rhodes made it a 25-point game, and the Bulldog lead hit its high at the very end as Bernard Rimmer turned his steal into a layup for the final points of the day. State held NSU under 36% shooting and owned a whopping 44-19 advantage in rebounding.
"We got stops," Stansbury said. "It allowed us to get out in transition and play better."
Scott led Nicholls State with 16 points and seven rebounds, while Bathie had 15 points but only two in the second half. The Bulldog bench outscored their counterparts 36 to 10.
With the season successfully opened, Stansbury was already turning the team's attention to Monday evening when State hosts Loyola-Marymount at 7:00. The Bulldogs just overpowered a small opponent; the Lions are a bigger, more post-oriented club. "It's a totally different type of team," Stansbury said. Though, in one aspect the challenge for State is the same: take better care of the basketball. It's an aspect the coach is sure he'll be discussing well into this season.
"But as we play together more and put people in positions that play to their strengths and hide their weaknesses, things will get better."