Bulldogs Go Small To Win Big, 96-72

No big Dog in the lineup? No problem. Especially not for Ben Hansbrough. The freshman guard made the most of his first collegiate start to lead Mississippi State in a rout of visiting Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 96-72 Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs improved to 4-2 while the Islanders left 3-2.

Taking the slot, if not the specific place, of and injured F/C Charles Rhodes, Hansbrough more than offset the postman's absence with a brilliant all-around effort. He threw in 23 points and delivered the ball to teammates for eight more baskets. For good measure Hansbrough added three steals and a couple of rebounds. Not bad for a guy who only found out fifty minutes prior to tipoff he was in the lineup.

"When Coach was writing on the board doing matchups he said Ben, you've got this guy," Hansbrough said. "I was like, alright!" His afternoon turned out almost all-right as well, though Hansbrough didn't quite top his team in scoring.

That honor fell to soph G Jamont Gordon with a career-high 24 points. "Did he get 24? Dang!" Hansbrough quipped. "No, it's alright, Jamont and all of us played well as a team tonight." Gordon did play well though for a lengthy stretch it didn't look entirely that way. He was 3-of-12 shooting in the first half and ended up 6-of-17, getting almost half his points from the charity stripe. Those stat-lines actually reflected how Gordon was instructed to attack the Islanders, though, and draw defenders to himself.

"Coach was telling me take charge so every time I went in there I was looking for a shooter," Gordon said. As the first half wound down those shooters did show up and took advantage of openings created by Gordon's aggressiveness. Hansbrough in particular, with three treys in the first half and two more in the second. State ended up hitting 11 longballs in 22 attempts, and with 17 total assists.

"I'm proud of the way we shared the ball and moved the ball," Coach Rick Stansbury said. "And any time you made shots the way we did today it makes it look better." Guards Reginald Delk and Barry Stewart both had a pair of three-pointers and finished with 14 and 11 points respectively.

The day didn't entirely belong to the backcourt. Starting C Jarvis Varnado added seven points and nine rebounds in place of Rhodes, out with a wrist sprained Wednesday evening in a fall. But the bigger contributions came from Vernon Goodridge. The soph subbed-in and posted his first college double-double with ten points and rebounds. "It was big shoes to fill but I went out and tried my best and played hard."

"Everybody who played added to the game," Stansbury said. "We took a team that has out-rebounded most of its opponents and out-rebounded them by 10." The final margin on the glass favored State 42-32.

Still the tone of this game wasn't set on the backboards but on the floor as State planned to maximize the potential of a four-guard lineup in this particular matchup. "We wanted to make them run because not all their big guys can run the floor," Goodridge explained. "And they collapse a lot, so if somebody goes to the hole and they miss it's easier to get out."

It was quickly clear the smaller lineup was not going to be an issue as A&M let the game be played end-to-end and at speed, which favored State. It was 4-4 as Varnado scored twice on rebounds in the first 90 seconds, one of those baskets tipped into the wrong team's goal. Transition got Reggie Delk open for a trey and a foul of Gordon for free throws, then Hansbrough spotted up and drained the threeball for a 17-8 lead.

The Islanders slowed things down and worked inside for a couple of baskets and fouls but couldn't get closer than five points at 19-14 before State found the right speed. Bernard Rimmer scored in the lane and Hansbrough fed Stewart for an open longball and 25-15 lead. Gordon finally scored a basket, boarding his own miss to do it, and when he missed another layup Goodridge slammed the carom through. State was up 31-18 and the Islanders calling for time at 9:35.

"We got open shots passing the ball," Gordon said. "We shared the ball and got shots."

The Islanders came back with a four-point play Mitchell and cut the deficit to seven points while the Dogs caught their collective breath. Gordon and Reg Delk drove for layups and Delk hit a wide-open three at 4:04. He added another two minutes later, and Hansbrough pulled up on the break for his own three-pointer and a twenty-point margin.

Gordon drew a foul with under three ticks left and his free throws staked State to a 55-33 intermission lead, affirming the choice of a four-guard approach. "I thought our quickness really hurt them," Stansbury said. "We got up and down the floor and they had a hard time keeping up with us. And when you make shots the way we did things work out."

Gordon did get a three to go on his first try of the last half, only to have Hansbrough do twice as well catching-and-shooting for consecutive three-pointers and a 68-43 score. And his backdoor-lob to Goodridge for a dunk pushed the lead out to 30 points, 81-51, with over eleven minutes left to empty the bench and let every healthy body in on the afternoon fun. And, to break the century-mark, which the Dogs couldn't quite get to as play turned more like playground.

The sloppy last ten minutes did take a toll on State's final shooting efficiency, which still ended up at 50% even. The Islanders shot 45.9% overall and 6-of-15 from the arc, though they were forced to take a few more jumpers than their precise offensive plans favored. Josh Washington led CC with 16 points off tgeh bench and had half his team's treys. Cedrick Smith added a dozen points and Chris Daniels and Scooby Johnson ten each. No Islander had more than four rebounds and none of them blocked a Bulldog shot.

State now has a week without a game but not without work, as fall semester exams begin. Next action is Saturday evening with a home game against South Alabama (7:00). By then Stansbury hopes to have Rhodes back able to play and in the lineup. Though, after such a solid exhibition without their All-SEC center in the lineup the Bulldogs have gained another measure of early-season confidence.

Besides, Stansbury added, "When you make shots the way we did today a lot of good things happen."

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