Bulldog fans would love to see the senior center keep doing in the real season exactly what he did in the second exhibition. Varnado hit all seven of his shots for a team-high 17 points, and blocked five shots to go with nine rebounds. But it was junior forward Kodi Augustus who beat up on the Tigers both inside and outside, compiling 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Point guard Dee Bost added 14 points with a pair of treys, and swingman Phil Turner came off the Bulldog bench to round out the double-digit scoring with a dozen points. Georgetown College was led by guard Eddie Gray with a game-best 19 points and forward Vic Moses added 18 with ten rebounds.
In general Coach Rick Stansbury left the court satisfied with two exhibition wins, including a 82-54 outcome against Oklahoma City. "There's a lot of areas we have to get better in. But overall it was much better, I saw more positive things than last weekend."
The most positive sight to Stansbury was Augustus' efforts in all areas of the game. Augustus had scored 16 points against Oklahoma City but was not all that efficient in the process. A week later he looked far more polished, hitting six of nine shots and all his free throws besides attacking the glass. "Today he effected the game somehow without making three-point shots," the coach said. "He only took two threes, he's never played 27 minutes in his life and only taken two threes!"
"I saw the stats the first game, so I was like I'll go into this game and pick my shots better and be a better basketball player," Augustus said. "And it worked today."
Quite a lot of what Mississippi State tried this game worked well, at least in the initial half. It took all of five ticks for State to score as Bost caught the tip-off and flipped to Varnado for a dunk. A Bost steal-and-slam made it 5-0 and had Georgetown calling for time just 26 seconds into the afternoon. The Tigers were able to settle down and hang within a couple of buckets for the first couple of media timeouts until falling behind 19-11. It helped the home team's cause that three easy Tiger shots simply rimmed-away with no defensive influence.
Scheduled subbing took some edge off Mississippi State momentum though and when Vincent Crutcher hit a trey it was a 19-17 game, with Georgetown regaining possession on a tied-ball and taking a trey for the lead.
It missed and Augustus finished the break with a dunk. Varnado came back with a short spin-move jumper as the Bulldogs began a 10-0 surge. The flustered Tigers put up too many longballs, all missed, and State was able to convert. Particularly Augustus, with a turnaround jumper followed by a pullup that hit as he was fouled. The three-point play made it a 12-point margin at 5:39. Georgetown piled up the personals and free shots contributed the larger part to a 41-22 halftime difference.
"At halftime I was very pleased, we accomplished some things I wanted to accomplish," Stansbury said. "We held them to 22 points and we rebounded the ball. Our challenge was the second half, we weren't nearly as good."
Whereas the Tigers got better as Gray kept his club in sight with seven points in the first three minutes. The Bulldogs didn't respond quickly or well and the Tigers were able to creep back from a 21-point deficit to 51-38 by just giving more effort. That comeback was stemmed when Augustus, Bost, and Turner each struck for threes. Then at nine minutes of the half the margin was down to 12 points with Georgetown possession, the backup Bulldogs sputtering at each end.
Stansbury got his starters back on court at 8:37 but even then the Tigers kept momentum with a Gray trey and Kyle Saxton looper in the lane that suddenly had the difference down to 65-58 at 7:40. Having missed consecutive long tries over the GC zone the Dogs wisely chose to go inside where Varnado had two much shorter defenders trying to cover. They couldn't as he banged the layup home. A Tiger turnover G Barry Stewart got a jumper to fall and when G Ravern Johnson hit on the baseline State had regained enough control.
The Dogs were consistent on offense, with 56% shooting the first half and 58% the second. But they allowed the Tigers, held to 27% accuracy at intermission, to make 18 of 33 shots in the last half. And Georgetown were able to assert themselves on the backboards after halftime too, with then end result a 33-33 total tie.
"It was two different games for us," Stansbury said. "We've got to learn we can't play the score and the points, I wasn't as pleased the second half. When we had to turn it up we turned it up. But you can't turn it on and turn it off."
The Bulldogs did turn their offensive mindset in a better direction this week. After pumping up 30 trey-tries against Oklahoma City they fired only 19 today. Not that making just five of those was good shooting of course, but Stansbury didn't dispute the shots selected. And while starter Stewart missed all seven of his long shots the coach noted that his senior's shooting elbow is tender after a rough landing in the first exhibition. Stewart and Bost were 2-of-13 together at the arc, while Johnson hit his only such attempt.
One very encouraging sign in both exhibitions was State's shooting show from the free throw line, with a combined 36-of-44 efficiency. In fact the Dogs got 25 of today's points from that stripe for more than the margin of victory, as the Tigers were whistled for 25 fouls compared to 13 for the home team. Stansbury said his team at times attacked Georgetown well with sharper and smarter passing though dribble-drives were lacking.
"We've got to execute better in sets," Stansbury added. "We haven't worked on it a whole lot." With a short pre-season most offensive work has been basic motion stuff, which had the benefit today of giving Varnado plenty chances to show his improved footwork around the goal with the aid of Augustus. Rookie center Wendell Lewis made both his shots for five points but didn't get a single rebound in ten minutes and played more to block shots (once successfully) than defend his man. "He's got to learn to get in front of his guy, he's no shot-blocker like Jarvis," Stansbury said.
One post player not participating was frosh Renardo Sidney, still uncleared for college action by the NCAA with amateurism questions. "No news," said Stansbury. "So we've got to prepare as we've been preparing. Whether it's good or bad, right or wrong, we have to stay focused on what we're doing because we've got games to play."
Starting Friday evening with a first-ever meeting with Rider. Prior to the 8:00 tipoff the Bulldogs of 2008-09 will receive their SEC Tournament championship rings. That will be fun, the veterans agree…but their minds are more on the upcoming season and chances to win more titles and jewelry.
"I think this team's ready," said Augustus, adding, "We've got no choice but be ready."