Homeboy Rhodes Powers Dogs Past Privateers

He didn't start the game. But Charles Rhodes made sure Mississippi State finished the evening in style. Playing in his home town, Rhodes came off the bench to lead his team in both points and emotions as the Bulldogs overpowered New Orleans 89-63 in the Mississippi Coliseum.

"It's all about my pride when I come here," said Rhodes. And the Jackson native, who played his prep ball ten minutes from the ‘Big House,' had an evening to be proud of. Rhodes scored a game-best 25 points with eight rebounds. He also did it in just 22 minutes and as the backup center, a role he has played since a November 29 wrist injury. Rhodes didn't claim to be full-strength just yet, but… "My pride was 100%. And everybody knows I play with emotion."

For that matter all participating Dogs showed some attitude in pounding the Privateers, and the 5,578 fans observing reciprocated in kind. Whether it was individual performances from Rhodes and others, or team efforts such as a program-record 15 blocked shots, the evening reinforced State's choice of moving a campus game to this other ‘home' court.

"Our fans have been great coming down here," Coach Rick Stansbury said. "This is a great area for our alumni, we've had great support, and I think everybody has enjoyed watching our team play." The win, State's seventh-straight, gave the Dogs a 9-2 record going into their Christmas break. The Privateers fell to 5-7, having lost for a fourth-consecutive season to MSU. It was also the seventh-straight win by a Bulldog team in the Mississippi Coliseum, and the fifth under Stansbury.

While State was the home team, this really has become Rhodes' home court. Last December he put up 24 points with 18 rebounds against Jacksonville State at the Coliseum. He didn't come close to that rebound count this time, mostly because teammates were beating him to the boards. But he was much more efficient offensively, hitting 10 of 13 shots—including both of his three-point attempts—and contributed four blocks to the record total.

"Ever since I was little this was the place I wanted to play," said Rhodes. "I have a lot of confidence when I play here." Stansbury was more pleased with how his All-SEC junior responded to not starting in front of a home crowd, with a superb all-around effort in relief. Rhodes had scored 13 total points in the previous games; he had that many in one stretch of the second half.

But this was no one-Dog show by any means. Guard Jamont Gordon's first-half play was actually more decisive in the outcome as he scored 13 of his 19 points before intermission. And starting center Jarvis Varnado had a full tape's worth of highlights himself with 13 points, 15 rebounds, and seven blocks…all in just 24 minutes. If that weren't impressive enough the third State center, Vernon Goodridge, notched seven rebounds, a pair of blocks, and five points in 14 minutes.

"They had 15 blocks, they're dominant," Privateer Coach Buzz Williams said. "I think they're a NCAA Tournament team that will advance. We couldn't do anything with them. They're the best team we've played."

For only the second time this season New Orleans was not led in scoring by junior guard Bo McCaleb. He did tally 16 points but that was over ten under his season average as he was 5-of-27 from the floor. The entire team shot just 31%, which more than negated the fact UNO took 70 shots compared to State's 54. And that stat had to be put in a perspective, too, because so many Privateer attempts on goal were swatted aside. Considering that New Orleans' offense was based on attacking the goal, those rejections were all the more critical.

"They recruited me to block shots," said Varnado, who now has 31 for his freshman season. "I waited for the ball to go up and went and got it, my timing was good tonight. I wasn't going for a lot of pump-fakes so that made it easier." The record this team broke had been set at 14 exactly thirty seasons ago.

By contrast only two Bulldog shots were blocked as State shot 57% overall and an impressive 7-of-14 at the three-point arc. "We played like we're supposed to," said Gordon, who had three of those treys. "We knew we could come out and beat this team, and we took care of the ball and got it where we needed to and made shots."

Yet other than a three-pointer from Richard Delk the Bulldogs were able to build the early 11-5 lead practically from arm's length. Varnado had two baskets and a block in this stretch. Meanwhile the Privateers lost a perimeter threat when James Parlow, with one trey in three tries, picked up a second foul at 16:22 and sat down. UNO was able to get back within two before Varnado took a slick Gordon pass and stuffed it.

Still the Privateers hung close, aided to some extent by initially poor foul shooting from the Dogs. It was 17-11 at the 12-minute mark when guard Barry Stewart hesitated, then pulled on a three that hit. A missed UNO rebound turned into a transition basket for Delk and timeout by the visitors, but State got a steal and Goodridge cashed in free throws for a 24-11 score at 10:55.

Privateer Shaun Reynolds hit from the arc but it did nothing to slow MSU's momentum. Delk scored on a break and, left alone out front, Rhodes sank his first threeball. After yet another failed UNO drive Gordon went end-to-end for a dunk and 17-point Bulldog lead.

Gordon wasn't through with his first-half fireworks either. After clanging a dunk attempt he was given the rebound and sank a three. When McCaleb had yet another driving layup swatted Gordon beat the defense downcourt, spotted up in the right corner and swished another long shot for his 13th point and a 46-25 Bulldog margin at 3:51. New Orleans managed just one basket in the remaining time and trailed 50-27 at intermission.

"It's one of the best (first halves) we've had," Gordon said. "We came out and did what we're supposed to do." State had made 55% of all shots and 6-of-8 at the arc, while UNO was just 3-of-13 on longballs. That was still better than McCaleb's 2-of-14 overall accuracy at the break, with several of his driving attempts batted back into his face.

"He may have got by that first guy tonight but he didn't get by the second guy too many times," said Stansbury.

Rhodes had a nice first-half off the bench with seven points; in the second he roused the home crowd with consecutive slams. The first was a missed three-pointer by Reginald Delk that caromed into perfect position to stuff. The second was much more creative as Rhodes went baseline, crossed under the rim and reverse-jammed. By the time he swished a short jumper at 8:17 he had scored 13-straight State points and pushed the margin out to 30.

For good measure Rhodes tossed in one more trey and dunked a loose ball before taking a seat at 3:10. At that point all that was left to settle was the final margin, which the Privateers trimmed under 30 with a trio of late treys and a buzzer-layup. The 63 points were something of an achievement as in all the previous three losses to MSU the Privateers had scored identical 59s.

Guard Shaun Reynolds led UNO in scoring with 17 points and guard Jamie McNielly added 13. But the Privateers were beaten 47-31 in total rebounds, and despite 16 offensive boards they managed just six second-chance points. The Bulldogs had 20. And while both sides threw in seven treys, most of UNO's longballs came too late to make any difference. Meanwhile State owned the paint, 44 points to 20.

"I'm happy with the win," said Stansbury. "Most importantly for the way we got the win. I thought New Orleans came in playing well, they've won three in a row. Plus it being a break for us, where are young guys' minds at, are we tough enough to take care of business."

The Bulldogs did just that. Now they get a brief Christmas vacation, returning to campus next Tuesday to prepare for an extended road trip with games at George Mason (Dec. 30) and Missouri (Jan. 2).

"It's good to go home and enjoy Christmas," said Stansbury. "I do wish our schedule was a little different, that we weren't off so long. But that will be our challenge. Because from here on out there are no easy games."

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