State Gets Defensive In 61-37 Win Over Lions

Mississippi State showed it could shoot and score in the season-opener. For their second act the Bulldogs proved they can play a little defense, too, with a 61-37 thrashing of visiting Loyola-Marymount at Humphrey Coliseum Monday evening.

"It's not just offense," said forward Jarvis Varnado. "You have to play defense also."

The Dogs surely did that in this first meeting of the programs. State (2-0) shackled the Lions (1-1) of the West Coast Conference to 21% shooting and allowed the fewest points in a decade. Even more noteworthy, the 31 points were the fewest scored by a Lion team since 1947-48.

Though such stats are only available back into the mid-1970s, the 12-of-58 accuracy by LMU was the lowest shooting percentage by a MSU opponent on record.

"It was a lot of positive things," Coach Rick Stansbury said, "and I could start with one thing. That game was won on the ability to defend that basketball. We gave up 17 and 20 points (in the halves) against a team that can score and has scored. So I was very pleased with that."

It wasn't a great offensive evening for the home team, which had hit two-thirds of their shots in an opening-night rout of Nicholls State. This time the Bulldogs did well to make 40% of their attempts from the field, and actually went nearly ten combined minutes from the end of the first half through the start of the second without putting the ball in the basket. It didn't matter in the outcome, though, as MSU defense was more than up to the task.

"The defense picked it up a whole lot more and I think that got us going as a team," said guard Barry Stewart, who came off the bench to lead all scorers with 13 points. Six of those came off the foul line, where the Bulldogs thrived hitting 24 of 33 attempts. Guard Jamont Gordon had eight of his 12 points off the line, with Charles Rhodes the third Dog in double-digits at 10 points. Rhodes was able to extend his streak of double-figure games to 20, while leading State with nine rebounds.

Even then Rhodes was prouder of what happened on defense, both team-wise and individually. "I was looking forward to playing Matthew Knight, we really locked him down." The leading Lion did get 10 points but was 3-of-8 from the court. Guard Brandon Worthy led his team with 11 points but missed eight of his ten shots doing so.

It was a one-basket game for four minutes when guard Richard Delk came up with a loose ball and scored it for a 9-5 count.Then the Lions self-destructed with eleven scoreless possessions; the first five ended in turnovers followed by six consecutive missed shots. The Bulldogs didn't take as much advantage as they likely should with misses and miscues of their own. Still they got a few balls to fall from field and stripe, with Stewart sticking a pullup three and then driving for a shorter jumper to push the lead out to 18-5.

It took a 16-footer from Derick Grubb at 10:55 to end LMU's drought, but State wasn't slowing down yet. Rhodes dunked off a Gordon bounce-feed and hit a short baseline jumper for a 16-point margin. The center then pulled the trigger from top of the key to hit his second career trey and give the Bulldogs a 30-13 advantage at 4:40. That was also the last MSU points of the half, though Marymount only managed to trim their deficit by four points for a 30-17 intermission score.

And State stayed cold into the second period, going almost four minutes without adding to their total. The Lions were equally frigid until Grubb got a threeball to fall and Worthy popped a pullup that had Stansbury calling for time at 16:29. All that produced was a foul and free throw for Rhodes at 16:16. Still it wasn't until Stelmach put a Gordon miss in at 14:44 that the Bulldogs got a basket, their first in nearly ten combined minutes.

"I told the guys we aren't scoring so we can't let them score," Gordon said. "When we got in a rhythm on offense we got on top."

It helped that the Lions began misfiring their jumpers as well, and fouling on rebounds. Gordon made a couple of free throws and Stewart, hit after lofting a longball, canned all three chances for a 39-26 count. Hansbrough drove right to the rack for a switch-hand layin and was fouled on another break for free throws. "We tried to bring a spark off the bench," said Stewart of how he and fellow frosh Hansbrough and Varnado delivered in the drive. So by the time Rhodes knocked down a pair of charity tosses to cap a 14-2 surge State's lead was out to 47-28.

From there it was a matter of running out the last nine minutes, though the Dogs provided a few funtime plays such as when Reginald Delk lobbed to Richard on the break for a flying slam. Gordon got in on the dunk action himself, working the shot clock down before driving the lane and stuffing. He was able to increase his own double-digit scoring streak to 15 games. Walk-on guard Joseph Iupe hit a free shot for the largest margin of the evening, 27 points, before a late LMU trey for the final tally.

"We knew at halftime they weren't going to quit, and they made a run at us," Stansbury said. "But I was proud the way our kids responded." He was just as pleased with the 15 Dog turnovers, just a bit over half as many giveways as on opening night. "We took care of the basketball."

And took care of business. But matters get much tougher for State the next time out, as 2006 NCAA participant Winthrop arrives for a 6:00 Saturday game. "Coming in here is as good a non-conference opponent as you're going to see," Stansbury said. "They're in most people's top-30 and have two pros. This game was good for us, Saturday night will be a different type of test for us."

Yet the Bulldogs are comfortable taking tests of all sorts, having shown both sides of their game in two victories to-date. "This team is for real," said Rhodes. "I think we proved that tonight on television."


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