Bost Boosts State Past Rebels 80-75

At 6-2 and 170 listed pounds he might not have the broadest shoulders on this squad. But with Mississippi State sputtering in their SEC opener, Dee Bost saw his duty. "I had to try to put the team on my back, so I could change the game. And I did that."

Indeed the point guard did. With the Bulldogs trailing at arch-rival Ole Miss by as much as nine points, twice, in the second half, Bost literally took charge of the contest. Whether attacking on his own for layups, sticking semi-open perimeter shots, or converting on free throw opportunities, Bost put up 25 points leading Mississippi State to a 80-75 victory in Oxford. With their successful SEC opener State improved to 13-3 overall, while the #14-ranked Rebels fell to 12-3, 0-1 SEC.

"Dee's the one guy that can do it for us," Coach Rick Stansbury said. "He was paying loose and confident and we let him go do it."

Actually, Bost was told to go do it despite his own claims of just "going with the flow of the game, letting things come to me." The truth is Stansbury had told his sophomore quarterback to become the aggressor much as he had in the waning minutes of Monday night's loss at Western Kentucky when State nearly rallied back. "We had a good conversation after the game," Stansbury said today. "That's the way Dee has to play." As in, not become passive out on the point settling for jump shots or perimeter passes.

Well, the real wording was a little more blunt. "He told me I had to stop pouting," Bost admitted. "He was right!" Just as Bost was the right Dog for this game. After scoring eight first-half points trying to be the typical distributor, in the second half Bost took responsibility. And, control. "We pushed transition a lot and got the win," he said.

Transition as in break-neck drives on the goal before enough Rebels could get in position. This not only let Bost get points, eight on second-half free throws; but it got Ole Miss out of position and in foul troubles. And when they tightened up on the drive State was able to run some real offensive sets working inside—to center Jarvis Varnado—or outside to shooter Ravern Johnson.

"Dee grew up this game," said senior guard Barry Stewart. "Not just because he was scoring, the way he controlled the flow." While Bost did match his career-high points, three more Dogs scored in double-digits with Johnson hitting for three treys and 15 points. Forward Kodi Augustus had his best-balanced game in weeks with 13 points and 12 rebounds, and Stewart added 11 points with a trio of threes.

Varnado had a quiet offensive afternoon in Oxford with nine points and uncharacteristically poor 2-of-7 shooting. But he converted five free throws, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked six balls. Not to mention influencing at least as many more untouched Rebel shots that never had a chance of making due to the senior center's pure presence. "Jarvis changed the whole game, he made them throw up shots they didn't want and couldn't get off," Bost said.

Rebel Coach Andy Kennedy acknowledged Varnado's influence. "The big difference is Jarvis has more blocks than our whole team," he said, adding. "And we foul. Today we continued that trend, they shoot 33 more free throws by being more aggressive and we foul." Kennedy wasn't complaining either about State scoring 22 points on a hostile stripe, to just 8-of-13 free throwing by the home team. It again reflected how Bost altered the way Ole Miss tried and eventually failed to defend once the Bulldogs got aggressive on offense.

"Last game Coach was on us not getting into the lane," Varnado said. "This game we did, we got to the hole and got to the foul line." And the boards as State held a 46-39 rebound bulge, again largely built in a superior second half.

The opening period was another matter, mostly. For that matter both teams were as chilly on offense in the opening minutes as the weather until Augustus and Stewart stuck consecutive threes. After a Rebel timeout Bost and Stewart again struck from long range State went in front 20-8. It may have come too easily though and when Ole Miss cranked up the defense—playing more physically than the Dogs had become used to lately—they were able to mount a comeback. Tough driving scores by Reginald Buckner, Chris Warren, and Zach Graham ate away at the deficit as Varnado seemed to be tentative going after shots. He in fact was.

"Just game management, trying not to get in foul trouble because I wanted to play and help the team win," Varnado said. But being passive opened the door, and lane, for the Rebels to catch up. And when they made their first trey of the day, by Henry at 6:46, it was a 25-25 tie. As sloppy stretch of State turnovers and rushed longballs only aided Ole Miss' surge to as much as a seven-point lead. Stansbury adjusted by putting forward Romero Osby and Augustus on the court at the same time, a rare true front-line approach for this squad, and it did limit the damage the rest of the half. But Varnado had to swat a Warren drive aside to keep it to a 42-37 Rebel lead at the break.

Stansbury credited big guard Eniel Polynice's dribble-driving for getting his defense out of position, but he didn't want to stay with a three-bigs lineup in the second half either. "At halftime we decided if we were going to play small we had to change what we were doing." That meant two themes: first Bost would have to become more selfish with the ball and make things happen. Second, State would play some zone.

Both worked, though only after Ole Miss had stretched their lead to 48-39. Still, "The zone lengthened the game some, slowed them down a little bit," Stansbury said. "Jarvis protected the paint, we defended and rebounded." As for Bost, he tried getting an extra step on defender Polynice and taking him all the way to the goal. This at first produced dump-offs to Augustus who was fouled and made four free throws, and a bomb from Johnson that had State within a basket and Ole Miss calling time at 16:13. They were able to get the lead back up to nine points in four minutes.

But this was just Bost's true cue. "The first half he attacked and was looking to pass," Stansbury said. "The second half he attacked and was aggressive." Bost beat his man for a layup one trip and drew a foul on the next for two free makes. A minute later it was more of the same, though in reverse order as he hit free throws first and then scored the layup to have State within three points midway of the half. They were also already in the bonus by 9:45 as Rebel fouls piled up.

Yet the Dogs didn't merely accept officiating charity. They worked for points as after Varnado missed his second of a set State rebounded and Varnado was able to tip-in Bost's miss to tie the tally at 59-59. A hasty Rebel trey missed and on the other end Johnson fed Bost for a fastbreak layup and Mississippi State's first lead of the half.

"We were up nine and you could tell his team wasn't in great offensive synch," said Kennedy. "So (Dee) just drove the ball to the basket. It allowed them to stay in the game from the free throw line until they figured some things out."

The score stuck at 67-65, favoring MSU, for two full minutes as each side kept one-upping the other in rushed misses outside the arc and blocked shots inside the paint. A TV timeout at 3:17 gave State the chance to set up an inbounds play under the goal. The lob to Varnado drew a double-team…and left Stewart alone on the other side of the basket.

"That's a play we run," Stewart said. "I'm the first option and Jarvis is the step-in guy. But it worked out, Jarvis had two people on him and threw it to me…even though I missed layups all night!" Not this one, though, and the play dictated how the last three minutes would break down.

Rebel Graham missed his reverse-layup try and when Bost took the ball to the baseline it freed Johnson to float on the left wing for an open trey and 72-65 lead. Ole Miss kept in striking range though as Warren, then Terrico White each connected for three and a one-bucket difference going into the last minute. Mississippi State needed a rebound score from Augustus and free throws from Bost and Turner (around UM misses by Warren and White) to seal their victory.

Ole Miss ended up shooting 40% overall and 5-of-12 on treys tries in the last half. Just having them take long shots satisfied Stansbury that the zone was working. "We mixed it back-and-forth until we got the lead, then we didn't care who they had in the game," he said. "We weren't going to guard the high post in the zone, we backed off to protect the basket. It affected them."

‘It' being Varnado of course. Freshman John Riek gave the starting center four minutes' worth of rest—"and he only got three fouls!" joked Stansbury of the raw postman—while fellow rookie Wendell Lewis did not play at all. "Coach's decision," the coach would only offer. For his part Kennedy would have loved to see Varnado getting more breaks. "He's going to be the all-time shot blocker in the history of college basketball," the Rebel coach said. "Our plan was to get him involved in ball screens, drive it and pitch it. We thought we could score him, as a result he did what he does. He blocks shots." Varnado now has 80 swats for the year and is 62 blocks short of setting the NCAA record.

Warren led the Rebels with 15 points, hitting three treys but shooting just 5-of-17 on the whole. Graham had 14 off the bench and Terrance Henry 12, combining for five treys. But foul trouble and Varnado's defense meant starting big Rebs DeAundre Cranston and Murphy Holloway had just six points and three rebounds between them.

"This is a good win just because Ole Miss has a tremendous team," said Stansbury, who improved to 17-7 against the Rebels in his dozen State seasons. "I feel very fortunate to get out with this win."

And, off to a winning start in SEC season. The Bulldogs even get an extra day to enjoy their victory…but will pay for it in the form of two league home games in a short three days. State hosts Arkansas this Thursday at 6:00 (ESPNU), then turns around in time for a 2:00 Saturday visit from Georgia (ESPN).

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