Due to spring break for both colleges and high schools in the state, short notice for planning trips to Starkville, and $18 tickets, attendance for both NIT games has been a little over half-capacity of Humphrey Coliseum. A 5,500 crowd watched the Valley game and 5,733 were at Saturday's game. Yet those present made as much noise and added as much ‘atmosphere' as many bigger crowds did during the regular season.
Mississippi State has now played six NIT home games with a 4-2 record. Bulldog teams are 5-5 in all NIT play dating back to 1979.
And this Dog team has extended its own record for homecourt victories to 15 this season.
LONG GUNNER? It was the obvious game-story angle to take when Mississippi State beat Bradley at their own favored game of long-range shooting. The Bulldogs knocked down a dozen three-point baskets, one shy of the season-high, compared to nine for a Butler team that had made 340 treys in 34 games coming into the contest. Butler was the NCAA leader in three-pointers made yet was shot-up and gunned-down by a State squad that found the range early and often.
Seven Dogs in all fired up at least one longball, but one attempt came from a most unlikely individual. With the game running down and State in total control, backup center Jarvis Varnado found himself left-of-top and open. He pulled, and missed the amusement of all in the house.
"I had to get one!" the true freshman said. "I hadn't shot one all year and had to get one off! I swear I can make one, I did in high school." Maybe so but this isn't Haywood High and there's a reason Varnado is usually to be found a step or two from the rim. He added three blocks to his rookie season total today, giving him 65 and tying Erick Dampier's freshman-year mark set in 1994. That is Varnado's specialty, swatting shots instead of firing from the arc.
He also had a dozen rebounds against Bradley, his second double-digit boards game of the year after a 15-rebound effort in December against New Orleans. Varnado did valuable duty this day on defense, too, in the first half when necessary. "I was just picking up the slack from Charles, he had got in foul trouble." But the kid still sees himself as a shooter, given the opportunity.
"At practice you can see me knocking them down," he vowed, "if we get another blowout game like this you'll see me taking one. At the end of the game!"
MORE MSU MILESTONES: The victory gave Coach Rick Stansbury his sixth 20-win season in his nine campaigns at State.
Varnado's 65 blocks not only ties the MSU freshman-year record but equals the third-best season ever by a Bulldog, along with Tyrone Washington in 1999.
*With a career-high six blocks today, Rhodes has 61 for his junior season and 98 career which ranks sixth on the MSU list. His season-total is tied for seventh-best in MSU annals also.
*As a team the Bulldogs have blocked 216 shots, and every game they add to their own season-record. The old mark had been 175 swats in 1995-96.
*This squad also has 261 treys, another season record.
*Soph G Jamont Gordon had his second ten-assist game of the season, and in the process set a MSU post-season record for scoring passes on one game. He now has exactly 300 in his 63 career games, one shy of catching Timmy Bowers (2001-04) for 10th on the MSU list.
*Soph G Reginald Delk has 120 career three-pointers, 9th on the MSU list.
*And freshman G Barry Stewart has smashed Delk's freshman-year record for made treys (59 last season) with 65 for his rookie campaign.
GOOD GRACES: It was not an easy few days leading up to the game for Dietric Slater. Driving around Starkville Wednesday afternoon the senior was stopped for not wearing his seat belt. And when the officer found out Slater was listed as having a suspended license, the SUV was registered to someone else, and a prescription medication was present, he was arrested and booked before release.
As it turned out Slater had taken care of the license but it was not in the system somehow. The care belonged to an adult friend who Slater calls a friend and counselor, which made using the vehicle legitimate under most NCAA regulations. And the single pill, a stress reducer, was on the friend's prescription. All Slater ended up paying for was the seat belt violation, but the controversy made for two days of pre-game discussion. The calmest person involved was at the center of the storm.
"It really wasn't too much for me," Slater said, "because I knew I wasn't in the wrong. I knew I was going to play because I didn't do anything wrong. I was glad to play." And he played well enough to score 13 points with eight rebounds. It had to help his pre-game mood that this was a home game, though Slater said somebody tried to be a comedian.
"Yeah. I was stretching and a woman came out and said ‘Slater did you wear your seat belt to the game' and went off. And she was one of our fans!" For the record, he was belted-up coming to campus. But it was just something else to deal with for a veteran who has been through injuries, suspension, and more in his college career. "I'm older and know how things work and how stuff gets out. It didn't bother me at all."
Not even the newspaper coverage that infuriated his coach and MSU fans. Slater laughed that off, when asked by the Clarion Ledger reporter how that reporting had gone. "Yeah, you did me right!" he grinned.
GOOD THINKING: With Bradley's proven potential for perimeter production, Stansbury said Thursday that if a team tried to play zone against the Braves they might as well "go start the bus." So State stuck to man-defense from tip to two minutes before the final horn, when with the bench clearing all Stansbury wanted was to get it over with.
BU's Will Franklin used the open arc to hit two of his three treys over this zone, verifying the gameplan. But the only team bussing out of Starkville was the Braves and their fans as by then it was too late to change the outcome.