Basketball Dogs Win At SEC/Big East Challenge

TAMPA, Fla. - Mississippi State's second participation in the third-ever SEC/Big East Challenge turned out much better. The Basketball Bulldogs built the early lead and cruised to a 76-45 victory over DePaul Thursday night at the St. Pete Times Forum.

The victory lifts the Southeastern Conference to a 2-1 advantage in this year's play. Florida and South Florida were scheduled to complete the challenge set in Thursday's late game. A year ago, MSU also participated in the SEC/Big East Challenge, falling to Cincinnati 75-63 in the U.S. Bank Arena.

Thursday night, the Bulldogs ran their win streak to three games and moved the overall record to 6-2. The Blue Demons fell to 5-3, while losing back-to-back games to the league. DePaul fell 67-54 at Vanderbilt last Saturday.

The Bulldogs also continued their magic in the St. Pete Times Forum. This venue is where MSU captured four games in four days to win the Southeastern Conference Tournament last season.

For MSU, Kodi Augustus starting things by hitting back-to-back 3-point baskets. Those shots were certainly a tone-setter for the evening. After tying a school-record with 16 3-point baskets in Saturday's 105-53 romp over Saint Bonaventure, the Bulldogs followed that up with nine trays in the first half alone and 12 total Thursday night.

After grabbing the 6-0 lead, the Bulldogs would not only always lead, but they would also watch DePaul get no closer than four points the remainder of the way. Barry Stewart followed the Augustus spree with a 3-pointer and was fouled. Stewart's free throw gave MSU a 10-3 advantage.

In the opening half, the Bulldogs were 9-of-18 from 3-point range, also getting four trays from Ravern Johnson, as well as single 3-point baskets from Romero Osby and Dee Bost. The Bulldogs did not get their first 2-point basket in the first half until Jarvis Varnado scored with 1:02 left in the half.

MSU used a 15-0 run late in the first half to essentially put the contest away. After DePaul had climbed within 15-11, the Bulldogs answered with that run. Defensively, the Bulldogs held the Blue Demons to 17.9 percent first-half shooting (5 of 28 from the field).

At halftime, MSU led 35-15. In the final half, DePaul got no close than the halftime spread on two different occasions.

For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 24 of 54 shots from the field (44.4 percent), 12 of 28 shots from 3-point range (42.9 percent) and 16 of 22 shots from the foul line (72.7 percent). The Blue Demons hit 18 of 62 shots from the field (29.0 percent), 4 of 18 shots from 3-point range (22.2 percent) and 5 of 11 shots from the foul line (45.5 percent).

MSU had 11 assists and 15 turnovers, while DePaul had six assists and 12 turnovers.

Johnson paced MSU's offensive attack with 14 points. Also in double figures were Osby with 13 points, Stewart and Varnado each with 12 points and Augustus with 11 points. Varnado also had a team-high 13 rebounds, while becoming the seventh Bulldog pull down 800 boards in his MSU career.

Eric Wallace had 16 points for DePaul, while Will Walker scored 12 points.

The Bulldogs now complete their coast-to-coast road swing by facing UCLA Saturday in the Wooden Classic. That game tips at 3:30 p.m. CT at the Honda Center in Los Angeles and will be shown regionally by Fox Sports Net. MSU returns home to host Wright State in 6 p.m. ESPN2 telecast Wednesday night.

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