Still as the coach's comments in the huddle indicated Stansbury was also using the Jaguars as a warm-up for Monday's road game at Miami. And he wanted the Bulldogs to leave with some real momentum, thus the impromptu lecturing. "We were out there playing around a little bit," guard Jamont Gordon said. "He called us over and told us to pick it up. We did, we came out and played hard."
Harder and better than South Alabama could handle. Gordon and Reginald Delk both finished with a game-best 14 points while three other Dogs added ten points apiece. The same balance held on the backboards; Gordon also topped the lineup with nine rebounds, but five teammates caught five or more caroms as the Dogs held a 51-37 rebound edge. Mississippi State even whipped the Jaguars at their best gameplan, outscoring them 21-6 from the three-point arc.
It was the best-rounded effort of the young season for State. "We're capable of this every night," claimed Delk.
But it isn't every night a benchmark is reached. Stansbury did just that this evening, notching his 169th career victory and moving into a second-place tie on the MSU wins list with the legendary ‘Babe' McCarthy (1956-65). Not that he made much of the moment. "The only thing that tells you when you start breaking records, all coaches who do that have had a lot of good players in their time at that program and a lot of good assistant coaches."
State certainly had a better ball club this evening than the guests from the Sun Belt Conference, though Stansbury said this wasn't a fair measure of the Jaguars. "I don't think we got their best effort tonight. They're a better team than that." South Alabama shot just 30% overall and an awful 2-of-24 from the arc, after averaging almost ten made-treys in their first eight outings. "But on the other hand I thought our kids again played with good effort. I thought we took a strength of their team away, they had four perimeter people averaging 38-40% from that three-point line. We contested shots and guarded the ball screens as well as we could."
And the Bulldogs did some other things as well as they have in a long time. Such as, handle and distribute the basketball. State finished with 16 assists against only eight turnovers. It was the best ratio in two seasons, and the lowest total turnovers recorded by any of Stansbury's nine Bulldog teams. Ever. "For the first time that assist-to-turnover ratio got where you want to be," the coach said.
And it could have been an even better overall effort, or from USA's standpoint a worse beating, if State had been just a bit sharper in those early minutes. Both teams wanted to run on offense and man-up on defense; the Bulldogs, well-rested after a light work-week due to final fall exams, did it a bit better. The Jaguars did have one shot a gaining the lead on a 8-8 tie but missed it, and Gordon kicked the ball out to Richard Delk for a three-pointer at 17:00. The Bulldogs led the rest of the way.
South Alabama took just one long shot in the first four minutes; that changed after some closer shots were swatted away and following the initial media time-out the Jaguars began heaving up trey-tries in bunches. Only one of their next seven attempts swished, by Leandro Buboltz. The Bulldogs used the misses to ease on ahead. Gordon stripped the ball in one lane and scored it in the other, drawing a foul for a three-point play. A rebound let Charles Rhodes, just checked-in, get a dunk and Barry Stewart was able to reverse-layup for a 24-15 count.
"We had our legs tonight and it was easy for us out there," said Gordon.
Rhodes had a short attempt rim out but on the next break took a running feed for a flying slam and called time from South Alabama. The lead reached 14 points as Gordon scored a rebound. The Bulldogs also yielded to the temptation to loft lots of long jumpers and missed most themselves, while the Jaguars' Demetric Bennett got one to fall—snapping a string of six misses from the arc by USA. It wasn't enough to keep close though as an end-to-end layup from Ben Hansbrough and driving Gordon jumper staked State to a 38-22 halftime advantage.
For the first period the teams were a combined 4-of-29 at the arc. The Dogs—or more specifically, the Delks—were much sharper to start the new half. "We calmed down," said Reginald. "Coach said we were going to knock them down in the second half, and we did." Reginald threw in a pair of longballs and Richard another to double-up the Jaguars' score at 50-25. When Reginald hit again from key-top it was a 31-point difference with over 15 minutes left to formally end the affair.
Fittingly it was long shots that accounted for the final margin, with walk-on Billy Begley—who had not played since the 2004-05 season—sticking a three before Rhodes hammered one home himself as the game clock ran out. Starter Richard Delk was one of the trio with ten points, while Stewart and Rhodes had theirs in relief. Backup center Vernon Goodridge added six points and eight rebounds with three blocks, the same number of swats as starting pivot Jarvis Varnado.
"I thought we got great playoff the bench," said Stansbury. "Coming off a week of finals, not being able to practice at the up, I'm proud of the way we responded tonight."
South Alabama was led by backup center Charles Tabet's 11 points with no other Jaguar getting into double-digits. Bennett had a team-best seven rebounds. He and Buboltz had the only made-treys by the squad, which saw eight shorter shots blocked.
Now the Bulldogs have to respond to a stiffer challenge with Monday's venture to Miami. State's last road trip to play a ACC member, at Clemson on November 21, produced a three-point loss. The Dogs believe they are will be a better team on this road trip. "We feel we can go win this game," said Reginald Delk. It helps that the roster is back up to full-strength, or almost, with Rhodes returning to action after missing a game with a sprained wrist.
"I think I should be able to start," the junior center said, after putting in 16 minutes of relief work. "Tonight I was kind of getting mad because I was on the bench, but Coach was just protecting me. But I'm going to tell him I'm ready to play."
For his part the coach has seen Varnado and Goodridge perform well in the last couple of contests, while a four-guard starting lineup has been able to win both times out. "Our team has kept functioning without Charles," Stansbury said. "Hopefully he can come back and add to it but we've had players step up and that's what you have to have to make the team better.
"About Miami, we know they beat Georgia Tech. And they have great guards. It's a quick turnaround and there's no easy games in the ACC. But we're looking forward to that next challenge on the road."
The Bulldogs will practice Sunday afternoon in The Hump before flying to Miami in the evening. Monday's gametime is 7:00 ET with a regional telecast by Fox Sports Net-Florida.