"Bulldog basketball," said C Jarvis Varnado. "That's how we dreamed of playing, like that right there. Everybody came out excited about playing and just wanted to work hard and win the game. And that's what happened."
The Bulldogs (5-2) didn't merely win, they dominated. "Today the game wasn't in-question at all after the first ten minutes," Coach Rick Stansbury acknowledged, after his team bolted to a double-digit lead before the first media timeout could be called and rarely let-up afterwards. The opening surge came mostly from outside shooting as almost any Dog on the court seemed able to throw it through for three.
"We came out with a lot more energy," said G Ravern Johnson, game-high scorer with 18 points and four of his team's 16 treys. "Everybody had a good rhythm, we played good on defense and the offense just came, everybody knocked down shots."
By no mistake did Johnson give work on the stopping-end of the court credit for triggering the offensive output. St. Bonaventure (4-3) looked nothing at all like a team to campus leading the nation in field goal accuracy, 55% through six games. Because Mississippi State completely throttled the Bonnies, who missed their first three shots and nine of the initial 14 tries. And it didn't get a whole lot better the rest of the way.
"We pride ourselves on defense," said Johnson. "We said this game we were going to lock it down and not let them leave with over 50%." State succeeded as far as limiting St. Bonaventure to 33% shooting, and came very close to holding the visitors to just 50 points. This made matters on the offensive end that much simpler for the Bulldogs. "All our offense was set up by our defense," said Varnado, who tallied 14 points with eight rebounds and four blocked shots. "We rebounded the ball, we got out and ran, it created easy shots for the guards."
Such as PG Dee Bost for his five treys and 17 points. Or Johnson to make 4-of-6 at the arc and 7-of-11 overall attempts. And not just the guards, either, but big forward Kodi Augustus as he knocked down three treys himself and got 17 total points. All five Dog starters scored double-digits with G Barry Stewart adding 13 points.
"When you make shots it make the word go ‘round," said Stansbury. "But a lot of our shots got started with our ability to defend. This team came in leading the country in percentage, and we absolutely the first half took everything away from them. We did a great job on their three big guns." Those being forwards Andrew Nicholson and Da'Quan Cook and guard Chris Matthews, held collectively to 5-of-23 shooting and 11 points. Guard Obo Adegboye led the Bonnies with 13 points in relief action.
Though their shooting stats were impressive, St. Bonaventure obviously hadn't faced anyone like SEC shot-block record holder Varnado and a team suddenly rededicated to defense. While State's center was blocking three balls in the first four minutes his teammates were raining and draining treys from all sides.
"Give them credit, any time they were open they hit threes," said Bonnies Coach Mark Schmidt. In fact 21 of the first 29 Bulldogs points came on longballs. Varnado balanced the attack with some hard work around the goal and free throws, though on one dunk the left-pinky finger dislocated last Saturday came out of joint again and had to be popped back in place. Painfully, Varnado said.
But the real hurting was done to the Bonnies, as Stewart hounded Matthews relentlessly. Not until State's senior starter sat down did St. Bonaventure's top gunner get his first basket, and that a layup at 3:43 of the half. A three-point play off the bench by G Phil Turner negated that nicely, and before the break F Romero Osby's steal and score meant State could carry a 56-22 lead into their locker room. It was the highest halftime point total for a MSU team since 2002, and the first fifty-point output in an opening half since December 2006.
Nor were the Bulldogs slowed much by the break, their lead reaching 40 points on a reverse-layup Stewart barely two minutes into the new half. Midway of the period the third three from G Riley Benock made it a 84-40 difference, as to that point the Dogs were 13-of-21 at their arc. Inevitably with such a comfortable margin State lost a little defensive urgency and St. Bonaventure was able to drop some not-as-challenged shots in.
But Bost returned to bomb a couple more threeballs and keep his club on pace for 100, with backup C Wendell Lewis doing the honors on his layup at 3:27. The freshman was able to complete a pair of three-point plays that accounted for the long-lead of 55 points. This win came much easier than last year's 76-71 scrap on the Bonnies court, as the teams completed the home-and-home set. State owned the glass by a 44-31 margin, and maybe most impressive of all were 25 assists on 37 baskets with Bost and Stewart each credited with seven scoring passes.
"We shared the ball and moved the ball," Stansbury said. "And really for the first time I thought our bench added-to. They played some minutes and were productive."
The Bulldogs still will need to upgrade all production in the challenging weeks to come. When fall final exams end, State hits the road for two games in three days played on opposite ends of the country, beginning with a Dec. 10 meeting with DePaul at the SEC/Big East Challenge in Tampa. On the 12th State is in Anaheim to face UCLA in the Wooden Classic. Stansbury's squad won't be back on the home floor until the 16th when Wright State visits.
But romps like today do much to ease some early-season issues, too. "It's very important to get your confidence a little swagger about you back. The more guys settle into some roles the more we can play tougher, it will help us. Today no question is a good game to build off of. We've got a murder of a stretch coming up so that's why it was so important to get this one."