Bulldogs Swat Warhawks Away 78-49

After seeing seven shots in as many minutes swatted aside, Louisiana-Monroe finally wised up and quit challenging Jarvis Varnado. This spared the visiting Warhawks further embarrassment, and prevented the Mississippi State center from smashing a program record for blocks. But it didn't slow the Bulldogs on their way to a 78-49 home win Monday evening.

Dominating defense and a fast three-pointer barrage pushed the Bulldogs out in front 15-4 as they improved to 2-0 on the early season. Louisiana-Monroe left Humphrey Coliseum 1-1.

And the Warhawks left with feathers singed, having been overpowered at each end of the court. Defensively Varnado was the literal center-piece, finishing with nine blocked shots. All came in the first half and most in the opening ‘quarter' ULM quit bringing the ball within his wide wingspan, which left Varnado few other chances to match or break the program record of ten blocks.

He did however pile up 11 rebounds, so Varnado wasn't overly disappointed by only one basket all evening. Not with four teammates notching double-digits. "It ain't about how many I score, it's a team thing," he said. "The guys were hitting their three tonight, the guards were doing a good job, Kodi was doing a good job. I just stuck to what I do best, get rebounds and block shots."

"Jarvis can control the game doing other things," Coach Rick Stansbury said. "He erases a lot of mistakes by other people." And by just erasing so many shots so early, Varnado wiped out ULM's post-game plans entirely. "He changes the game," Warhawk Coach Orlando Early said. "We didn't shoot a great percentage and a lot of that comes from our shots around the basket being limited."

ULM's accuracy was way worse than not-great at 20-of-69, with just four of their 21 attempts from the arc falling the right way. Meanwhile Mississippi State was 28-of-56 on the floor and made nine treys in 21 tries. Three of the threeballs came from G Barry Stewart as he posted a team-best 17 points. Backcourt partner Dee Bost added three treys of his own and scored 14 points, with seven assists, while wingman Ravern Johnson scored 10 with a pair of threeballs. Even PG Kodi Augustus got into the perimeter act with one trey and 12 points total.

"We just made shots," Stansbury said. Though, the coach wasn't entirely happy with so many shots being taken from long range even if they were falling. And Stansbury was openly upset about how the Bulldogs let themselves be beaten on the backboards too often in the first period. Not that the game was in real danger, he admitted.

Still, the reason why it was so close the first half, they had 18 more shots attempts and that was offensive rebounding. They were ahead of us 29-21 and 16 were offensive rebounds." Including too many second-chance possessions after Varnado had rejected the first attempts.

"The second half we rebounded the basketball the way we're supposed to rebound it," Stansbury said. "They got two offensive rebounds and we got 20." Which resulted in a 50-36 overall edge on the glass.

Guard Travis Hill, a Starkville native, was the game's leading scorer with 19 points while guard Tony Hooper added 14. But the rest of the Warhawks who took a shot were a combined 7-of-36 shooting.

The Bulldogs were firing from long range early because the Warhawks opened in, and usually stayed in, a zone defense. So State's backcourt put it up and hit five of the first six attempts. Bost had the hottest hand early, hitting a trio of treys as State bolted to a double-digit lead. "They were lagging-off and trying to help in the post," Bost said. "I was wide-open, so I just shot it."

On the other end the Bulldog man-defense simply overmatched ULM, especially with Varnado swatting five shots by the 15:00 mark…one of them 15 feet from the goal. "I was kind of surprised they came at me so much," he said.

Leading 17-6 at 12:57 Stansbury felt free to substitute an entire team. The ‘second' squad wasn't nearly as effective, though ULM switching to man-on-man defense didn't make it as easy to get open outside shots. The Warhawks used this reprieve to get some jumpers to fall and creep within 23-17 by 7:56, though they missed a trey-try to cut the margin further.

And after the media timeout the State starters returned, with Stewart striking for three. It still took the Dogs a few minutes to regain offensive rhythm, with Bost providing the spark. He drew a foul for two free shots, then completed a break to push the cushion out to 30-19. ULM worked the backcourt and clock for jumpers, not coming at Varnado directly as often though the big Dog did clear plenty of their missed shots. And he was able to get his ninth block before halftime, with State taking a 35-24 lead into the locker room.

The Dog didn't do much with that advantage when the next half opened, though neither did ULM as there were more whistles than points, turnovers than baskets. Finally Ravern Johnson hit a three, and after a Warkhawk five-second call Kodi Augustus powered for a classic three-point play. The sophomore was 4-of-5 in his first college start, but said he felt no nerves. "Not really, once you get in there it's the same old game."

Stewart finished another fastbreak for a 52-33 MSU margin before State swapped-out the whole squad. This time the replacement pups expanded the lead, as Romero Osby scored off one rebound and manufactured a three-point play. Jacquiese Holcombe's breakaway made it a 65-40 scoreboard with nine minutes left.

Stansbury chose the 7:32 break to reinstate the starting five and used most of the remaining time to hone that lineup's work in set-up offense before letting backups have a few more turns. The lead peaked at 76-46 when C Elgin Bailey flipped it in at 1:35.

The coach didn't allow himself to enjoy the win too much, still annoyed at failure to work the ball inside to Varnado and Augustus often enough. "We jumped up and made some shots early, but you can't live by shooting deep threes against a zone." And the first-half rebounding was still a sore point. But turning more positive Stansbury said seeing this sort of zone was a good learning opportunity, and his team obviously got the message about board-work at halftime.

He also liked how the platooning system played out on the whole, and plans to stick with it in upcoming games. "And that second unit brings us some toughness and energy. I'll play it by ear, we'll see how it works. It's not a lot of separation between those guys in the first and second unit. We'll keep mixing and matching a little bit, as long as we can survive, because it's giving them all playing time that's going to help us down the road."

And hopefully at home, too, as the Bulldogs must turn right around and prepare for a Wednesday night game with North Alabama (7:00). That game is part of the Legends Classic, with round-two Saturday against Fairleigh Dickinson (6:00). State is assured of playing in the Classic semis and finals in New Jersey, and will leave Sunday morning at 8:00.

This makes for a lot of games in a short time, as well as an extended Thanksgiving away from campus and home that includes a side-trip game with St. Bonaventure before the two Legends' games in Newark on November 28-29. "It's kind of hard," Bost said of the busy schedule. "It'll be difficult, but we can overcome it."

And the early-season slate is why a two-platoon system appeals to everyone involved, even the starters. Besides, Stewart said, his coach is correct about the minimal difference from first to second squads. And he sees that as a good thing. "This team is a balanced team, not like in the past when we had two guys we went to. This team is more balanced and moves the ball around well.

"Right now we're just getting everybody an opportunity, giving everybody a shot and getting a feel for the game. It wouldn't be too good bringing somebody in SEC season and they haven't played at all!"


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