Neither of the young postmen, starter Varnado nor backup Goodridge, led their team in scoring. But they did what they've done the past three weeks, since a wrist injury has limited junior all-SEC center Rhodes. Freshman Varnado scored 13 points with seven rebounds and four blocked shots, with Goodridge spelling him for eight points, ten boards, and three more swats. Each was credited with an identical twenty minutes on the court, too. It was the best combined effort of the pair since they were assigned larger responsibilities.
"When Charles went down with that injury Coach told us to step up our games," said Varnado. "Play hard, rebound and block shots, and go score inside." Together the Dog-duo made good on ten of their 12 shots.
"Jarvis gave us great minutes," Stansbury said. "And we got eight points and ten rebounds from Vernon. That's pretty good productivity at that position." Rhodes, who missed one game and hasn't started the last three, did put in 18 minutes of relief for three points, three rebounds, and three assists. He also got in on the shot-swatting with two blocks, as State ended up with ten rejections in all. Guard Richard Delk had the tenth.
Delk also had the hottest hand in the house, hitting four three-pointers and scoring 16 points to lead State. "I got good open shots, my teammates found me a lot," said the soph. But even he agreed that much of his outside offense was set up by the inside activities of Varnado and Goodridge drawing the defense into the paint. "When they went in they'd kick it out to us for open shots."
Starting guard Jamont Gordon had 15 points for State, while Barry Stewart came off the bench to hit four treys of his own and collect 14 points. McNeese State had three in double-digits, topped by center Jarvis Bradley's 14 points. Forward Aldryan Wardell had a dozen points, as the Cowboys did almost all their damage right around the goal. McNeese was only 3-of-15 at the arc.
What the visitors did well was hit the boards, out-rebounding a taller State lineup 46-38 overall and collecting 22 offensive caroms. That put the team's 38% shooting in some perspective; the Cowboys got plenty of second-chances with tips and taps at their own bucket. While not too many went in Stansbury still wasn't happy with how the Dogs handled themselves against the smaller but more aggressive ‘Boys.
"I thought today for the first time we didn't' have the same spark that I'd like to defensively and rebounding," the coach said. Even the swats weren't entirely positive stats in his eye as most of those were caught back by the Cowboys and shot again. "I liked blocked shots, you just have to be smart when you do it."
Though the smaller lineup, McNeese still wanted to play in the paint and forced everything inside. The Cowboys got off 11 shots in the first five minutes, including five missed attempts in a 20-second stretch of good offensive rebounding and bad shooting. If not for Wardell's two buckets McNeese would have been scoreless at the first timeout.
"Coach told us to come out with the same intensity we played with at Miami," said Gordon. But the Bulldogs weren't all that offensively efficient either after opening with a Ben Hansbrough bomb, missing a series of open attempts. It was Varnado's dunks off fast feeds that kept State in front as he and Wardell matched scores. The Cowboy forward made it 14-12 on another layup, then Troy Aaron had a chance to give his team their first lead. His trey-try missed.
Gordon's at the other end didn't. A rebound and kickout to Richard Delk produced three more points and a Cowboy timeout, but McNeese kept missing their short shots while Delk cashed in on consecutive fast-breaks to hit open threeballs for a 26-14 lead at 6:34. That had the Cowboys spreading out to cover more of the court but also opened up the inside for Varnado and Rhodes to cash in some easy baskets.
But just before halftime it was Stewart finding the range. After missing a couple of longballs the rookie sank a corner three at the 40-second mark, and came off a screen for another bomb to stake State to a 43-25 halftime advantage.
"We had some guys step up and make some shots," Stansbury said. "And we had some good productivity off the bench in Vernon and Barry."
State kept producing into the last half and the lead reached 20 points at 53-33 on another Delk three. Goodridge dunked off a Gordon lob, then blocked a shot at one end so Gordon could lay it in on the other for a 64-39 score. And at 9:02 Stewart spotted up on the left wing and sank the three for a 71-41 margin, longest lead of the afternoon.
With the outcome settled play degenerated into playground with both sides running and gunning and funning, and hoping nobody got hurt. Which at 6:27 Varnado did, turning an ankle; he left the gym with a boot on the left foot. Other starters also kept hitting the hardwood too often for comfort. "We got a lead on them and they started playing physical," said Gordon, "so we had to play physical. Bodies flying everywhere!" Leaving Hansbrough in did provide some late highlights as on three trips his lobs to Bernard Rimmer produced slams.
State tallied 22 assists, the most in two seasons, against 15 turnovers. "We shared the ball and took care of the ball," Stansbury said. "But I didn't think we were as sharp as we had been. Not that it was bad, it wasn't as good as it has been." The coach took some of the responsibility as he used this game to mix in some different defensive schemes, including zone sets, that allowed the Cowboys to get some easier second-half baskets and make their shooting stats more respectable.
Still it was a win and a decisive one by any measure as State never trailed. In fact the Bulldogs have not been behind on a scoreboard since midway of the first half against Charlotte. They intend to continue that trend Monday night when Alabama State comes to Humphrey Coliseum for the last home game of 2006. Stansbury expects to stay with the current lineup of three sophs and two freshmen while Rhodes gets his game back up to the pace expected of an all-conference player.
By January the coach also hopes to have both his senior Dogs available. Forward Piotr Stelmach is to get the cast off his injured leg Monday, then re-hab over the holidays. "Then we'll see," Stansbury said of how soon Stelmach, a November starter, can contribute. Meanwhile fellow upperclassman guard Dietric Slater expects to be activated after New Years, having been suspended for all November and December games.