State will host Florida State in third-round action Tuesday at 6:00 with national telecast on ESPN. The winner advances to the NIT's final-four round in Madison Square Garden. Bradley ended their season 22-14.
And the visiting Braves left Starkville having been beaten at their own game. Bradley, the NCAA leader in three-point scoring with 340 treys for the season, did connect on nine treys this day. But they needed 30 tries to get them, while State went 12-of-27 at their own home arcs. And nobody on the MSU side was surprised. In fact, the Bulldogs welcomed this chance to match marksmanship at a run, gun, and fun tempo.
"That's the kind of pace we like playing at," said guard Reginald Delk, who like Gordon had three treys. "We were in the Hump and we were comfortable." So was guard Barry Stewart with four longballs in seven attempts. Backcourt Dogs Dietric Slater and Ben Hansbrough had the other threes. Yet there was much more to State's offense than bombing from down-range, as the Dogs shot 53% for the day and blistered Bradley with 65% gunnery in the second half.
"Everybody was creating for each other," Gordon said. "We played team basketball out there and just made shots. We made a lot of good shots."
"When you get more than one person shooting it on this team, we're pretty hard to stop," said Coach Rick Stansbury, who is now 4-2 in NIT action. Meanwhile the Braves were held to 37% overall shooting and crushed on the backboards 51-32, with most of those long-range misses turning into transition opportunities for the home team.
Not that the Dogs took their guests lightly even after the victory. "They're the best three-point team I've played against," junior center Charles Rhodes said. "I'm glad they weren't on all cylinders, I'm glad they missed a lot of threes. That hurt them and helped us."
Rhodes finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, and blocked six of the ten swatted Bradley shots. His backup, rookie Jarvis Varnado, had three blocks—tying the freshman-season record of Erick Dampier at 65--and a dozen rebounds in 16 minutes of relief work. Reginald Delk added 15 points with 13 from both Slater and Stewart.
Bradley was led by guard Will Franklin with 15 points and three treys, though he was 4-of-13 from the floor. Center Zach Andrews scored 13 points with a team-high nine rebounds, while guards Jeremy Crouch and Daniel Ruffin had 12 and 11 points with a combined nine assists. But that was one less than Gordon collected himself as he matched his personal high of ten assists, giving him 300-even for his career.
Still the soph point-forward was calling his own number early and often. He took and made State's first three shots for eight points. "This time it was my time to shoot the ball. My teammates got me open shots and I knocked them down." And while the Dogs were playing perimeter ball, the Braves were going against expectations and attacking inside. In fact 14 of their first 18 shots were taken inside the arc. An Andrews dunk put them in front 9-8 at 16:22.
Rhodes took care of that with a rebound basket, then a driving stuff. "Momentum is the key factor," he said. "The Braves collapsed their coverage and State took advantage with open three-pointers from Reginald Delk, Hansbrough, and Stewart to trigger a 12-0 surge. Bradley stopped play at 22-13, but the deficit reached 11 on an inbounds-layup by Slater before the Braves got a Franklin jumper to roll in and end a three-minute scoring drought.
Still Bradley was able to avoid being blown entirely out before halftime. When Rhodes picked up a second foul and sat down Warren was able to drive for a pullup and free throw, then sink a trey at 8:34 that had the Braves back within three. And over the next five minutes BU had five chances to tie things up, only to miss every field-shot and a couple of free throws. J.J. Tauai got his second free chance to go and make it 33-32 at 4:32, and Varnado missed his layup.
The rebound was tipped out to Hansbrough who found Richard Delk cutting back-door for the layup. With Bradley mis-firing on consecutive trey-tries State was able to regain control. Varnado's hook rolled right and Hansbrough went end-to-end for a acrobatic layup, but it was Stewart's stick of a longball that let the Dogs take a 44-38 advantage into the locker room. Seven players already had at least two baskets.
"It was much easier to play from ahead than behind," Stansbury said. And State got farther ahead fast in the second half with Slater scoring a rebound and Delk dunking on a run-out to draw a Bradley timeout. They burned another at 16:28 down a dozen on a Slater slam.
Bradley still wasn't entirely done, hitting just enough long jumpers to stay either side of a ten-point difference and waiting for a chance to rally. The Dogs gave them that with some sloppy series while Gordon was sitting with three fouls, and the Braves scored nine-straight to make it 69-62 at 8:32. This time it was Stansbury stopping action for a talk.
If the coach told his team to go back to their perimeter punch, it worked as Stewart, Slater, and Reg Delk drained treys before Rhodes got loose for a layup and 80-62 score at 6:33 that settled the issue. "We spurted back out," Stansbury said. There was still plenty time left to entertain the home folk, such as Gordon's flying slam and his lob to Rhodes for a slam. guard Joseph Iupe had the honor of breaking the century with his layup at nine seconds, matching the longest lead of the Dogs' day at 29 points.
"I think we wore them down," said Gordon, as Bradley just couldn't keep pace. "That last 8-10 minutes I think we went on a 23-2 run to finish the game off," Stansbury noted. "It was a great team effort."
"That is a very good basketball team," BU Coach Jim Les said. "That might be the best team we have played all year in terms of just all-around athleticism, size, depth, and skill. I would hate to see if they can play better."
Stansbury hopes his Dogs can play better in the next round, against a Florida State squad that has a NCAA-sized chip on their collective shoulders. "We'll have to play exceptionally well here to have a chance to win that game," he said. With a win, the Bulldogs will be able to take their act to New York City, a destination State missed on a last-second shot back in 2001 in the NIT's quarterfinal round.