"I don't know if everybody understands how good South Alabama is, but we as a staff did," said MSU coach Rick Stansbury. "Come March I think everybody else across the country will understand. This is a very good South Alabama team."
After Mississippi State pulled out to a very early four-point lead, 10-6, in the first half, South Alabama's quickness and zone gave the Bulldogs trouble, allowing them to stay with the Bulldogs throughout the half.
South Alabama, at the buzzer, made a three-pointer to pull to within one, 36-35.
"Early in the game I thought that their quickness caused us to fumble some passes and miss some easy shots," said Stansbury.
In the second half, Mississippi State began to take control. Five minutes deep into the second half, they were up by nine, 49-40, after going on a 12-1 run. Timmy Bowers, after having a poor offensive outing against Oklahoma this past Saturday, made back to back threes during the run.
"We knew at halftime that we hadn't played our best," said Stansbury. "I thought that at halftime our kids really grew up here. Champions and championship teams, throughout the season, there are going to be moments in games where you have to bow up. I thought that our kids came out of that locker room with a sense of urgency about them. Defensively, we took our energy to another level."
After South Alabama made a couple of free throws, the Bulldogs went on another run, 9-0, to make the score 59-42 with 12 minutes to go in the half.
At that point, South Alabama started to inch back into the game, scoring 15 points to MSU's 10, which put the score at 69-57. Interestingly, from the 7:27 mark to the 3:30 mark, all of South Alabama's points, 9 of them to be exact, were from the free throw line.
With 2:44 to go in the second half, South Alabama decided to make Mississippi State win or lose the game on the free-throw line. Mississippi State was up to the task.
South Alabama fouled Ontario Harper, putting him on the free-throw line. From that point on, MSU went to the line 14 times, making 12.
South Alabama ended the game by making a two-pointer to make the final score 85-74.
South Alabama put four players in double figures, Malerick Bedden (17), Chris Young (15), Richard Law (13) and Demetrice Williams (14). Twelve of Young's points were scored in the first half.
"We found a way to shut down Young in the second half," said Stansbury. "He got three free throws when he was fouled on a three-point shot. That is a credit to Timmy Bowers and Winsome Frazier. They shut him down."
The Bulldogs outrebounded the Jaguars 37-29. Both teams committed 19 turnovers.
Despite the high number of turnovers, Stansbury was pleased with his team's effort on the road.
"This was our first true road game," said Stansbury. "When you go on the road, it is a different energy level that your opponent has, especially when you have the bull's eye on your chest. It was a great team victory."
MSU's next opponent is the University of Alabama at Birmingham, 7 p.m. Thursday in Birmingham.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher and owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial site for Mississippi State sports since October, 1996. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org