November 22, 2011 9:40:00 AM
Matthew Stevens - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State men's basketball program celebrated being ranked with a victory.
For the first time since January 2010, MSU was rewarded Monday afternoon with a No. 24 ranking in the latest Associated Press poll. MSU responded by outlasting the University of Louisiana at Monroe 78-63 at Humphrey Coliseum.
MSU (5-1) was without junior Arnett Moultrie and junior center Renardo Sidney. Moultrie, the MVP in last weekend's 2K Classic, was rested with what team officials said was severe tendinitis in both knees. MSU coach Rick Stansbury said the 6-foot-10 forward, who was dressed out for the game and participated in the shootaround, was available in a desperate situation.
"It never got to that point," Stansbury said. "There's never any games to rest him. We don't like resting him, but it was good to be able to survive without him."
Sidney was in street clothes with a black wrap around his left wrist because of an injury he suffered in a 69-60 victory on Thursday against Texas A&M in New York City.
"Sidney is day by day. I don't know," Stansbury said. "I wish I had the answer. He wasn't able to practice."
Despite the loss of their power duo in the lane, MSU won the battles of points in the paint (36-16), second-chance points (17-3), and offensive rebounding (10-5).
"If was very obvious we had to function a little bit differently in how we got that ball inside," Stansbury said. "That's just hustle buddy. That's what we had tonight."
In the past two games MSU has been ranked in front of its name, it immediately gave the honor back with a disappointing loss. Two seasons ago, MSU dropped the season-opening contest to Rider 88-74. Fifty-three days later, it re-joined the rankings only to lose 55-52 at Western Kentucky.
The early moments of Monday's game looked eerily similar to those frustrating defeats. ULM took a 41-39 lead thanks to sophomore guard Marcelis Hansberry, of Jackson Provine High School, who had 13 points. Guard Fred Brown led ULM (0-5) with 21 points in 34 minutes.
MSU was determined not to let another letdown happen after defeating No. 19 Texas A&M and No. 15 Arizona on back-to-back days last weekend at Madison Square Garden.
"These teams we have in front of us don't care one bit we beat two ranked teams," MSU senior guard Brian Bryant said. "We got a bigger bull's-eye on our back, and now they're even more motivated to beat us."
With a shortened bench against a smaller team, MSU utilized a four guard lineup and received quality performances from starters Dee Bost, Rodney Hood, and Bryant.
"Our team is much more versatile this year, and I think we showed that again tonight," Bost said. "Teams aren't focused on just one or two players anymore."
With MSU's post offense threat missing, Hood, the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week, attacked the middle of ULM's zone defenses and had 20 points, eight rebounds, and five assists.
"(Playing power forward) wasn't that bad because they were small, too," Hood said. "I could play free tonight and attack the middle of the zone. That's something I enjoy."
Bost, who made the 2K Classic All-tournament team, tied for the game-high scoring honors with 21 points. He also had five assists and three steals despite getting into foul trouble early in the second half.
With 13 minutes, 6 seconds left in the game, Bryant got the crowd of 4,892 on its feet with back-to-back dunks that gave the Bulldogs a five-point lead. The 6-foot-3 guard, who Stansbury has always said is one of the team's best rebounders, got his first career double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds).
"We knew all the guards had to go out and attack the bounds," Bryant said. "That was our mind-set the whole night."
MSU will play host to University of Tennessee at Martin at 7 p.m. Friday for the second of six straight games in Starkville.