Coach Rick Stansbury could easily enough find aspects of the afternoon where his team didn't play as well as they could, and should, have. At the same time the coach had to give due credit for the things that made the winning difference. "We found a way to get 84 points on a team that controls the game pretty well," Stansbury said.
Which was State's second-best output of the young season, after the 86 points scored on Tennessee-Martin three weeks ago. The Bulldogs did it by shooting 53% overall, including seven three-point baskets. And thanks to superior rebounding at each end Mississippi State were able to take more and better shots than the Lions could create in their controlled-type attack. Essentially once State put SELa in a position of playing from behind, this was the Dogs' day.
They made it that way with an inside-out approach to offense, making the Lions choose between swarming Charles Rhodes and Jarvis Varnado around the goal, or covering the perimeter. Ultimately Southeastern tried to do both, and succeeded at neither. "I thought we did it pretty good," guard Jamont Gordon said. "Charles (Rhodes) scored a lot in the post and our guards scored a lot."
Gordon scored more than anyone with 25 points, though he had to pump it up a lot to get there on an 8-of-18 outing. He was 3-of-13 in the first half. But the junior point guard was able to overpower any Lion in his way and create baskets for himself and teammates alike. Mostly to Rhodes, who had 16 points before fouling out. He and Gordon had seven rebounds each, contributing to State's 39-24 margin on the backboards overall.
The inside-out game also played to the benefit of center Jarvis Varnado, at least in the first half with eight points on 4-of-4 shooting. "I thought I came out more aggressive on offense today," the sophomore said, though that approach also produced five fouls in just 17 total minutes. Guard Ben Hansbrough added ten points. He had one of State's treys with Stewart popping a pair.
The Lions got 16 points from center Patrick Sullivan, well over his average, and ten more from forward Warrell Span. But leading scorer Kevyn Green, who had been giving SELa almost 16 per-game, was shut out the first 14 minutes of play and managed only seven points on 2-of-9 shooting. And Sullivan snared only a single rebound, where he had been getting 9.6 nightly.
Not that Southeastern Louisiana backed down from the stouter Bulldogs on a hostile court. "They came out and tried to punch us in the mouth and make it a physical game," reported Rhodes, who had to take a seat in the first half after receiving an elbow in the eye.
"They played Alabama and LSU close, those are two rivals of ours, so we knew we had to come play," Stewart said.
Sullivan put the Lions on top initially with a couple of dunks, against a driving slam from Rhodes. Once State closed down the lane for a few series Southeastern couldn't make harder shots, and on their end the Dogs got consecutive threeballs from Hansbrough and Stewart. More bombs by Gordon and Stewart pushed the lead into double-digits.
"It was just what they were giving us and we made some big shots," said Gordon. "I didn't make too many but my team did." Gordon could convert free throws and scored his own rebound for a 29-14 margin at 7:42. Daryl Arnold collected a couple of buckets for SELa, but not until 5:47 could Green get his first points. Gordon offset that with three of his own, and State was able to take a 41-27 lead into the locker room.
To Stansbury's frustration the Bulldogs didn't maintain any pace to open the last half. While Varnado picked up a fourth foul in just two minutes Sullivan made baskets to pull the Lions back within 48-39. It was Rhodes' cue to take control. Having been held to just two shots, both made, in the first half, the big Dog asserted himself by scoring eight of the next ten State points including a breakaway dunk at 12:40 for some breathing room.
"We got our groove back in the second half," said Rhodes. At both ends, he meant, because more defensive attention in the backcourt set up Southeastern turnovers and easier Bulldog baskets. A Hansbrough layup made it 61-43 by the nine-minute mark, and when freshman backup Kodi Augustus was left open for a three he hit for a 76-49 difference at 5:40.
"Charles played with some energy, particularly in the second half and had good productivity," Stansbury said. He was pleased with how backups took care of minutes when Rhodes and Varnado were out from fouls, though sub-center Brian Johnson only played the last half due to a part-game suspension for being late to a team meeting. This gave freshmen Elgin Bailey 14 minutes of work, while classmate Augustus got 11 and knocked down a couple of treys and six rebounds.
"I got a few points off my bench, that was a positive," said Stansbury.
Mississippi State will wrap up exams before returning to home-court competition this Thursday, hosting unbeaten Miami. Gametime at Humphrey Coliseum is 7:00 with regional telecast on FSN.