March 17, 2010 11:36:00 AM
David Miller -
STARKVILLE -- In a workman-like performance Tuesday night, the Mississippi State men''s basketball team won its first-round National Invitational Tournament game by beating Jackson State 81-67.
Two days after learning they''d be playing in the NIT instead of the more prestigious NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs didn''t shoot particularly well (40.7 percent). They shot just 27.6 percent from 3-point range.
The Bulldogs were also out-rebounded by three.
Mississippi conntered the shooting and rebounding by coming up with 12 steals.
But concern about the Bulldogs not being motivated for the game was nixed with a double-digit win in which they trailed just once.
MSU senior forward Jarvis Varnado led the Bulldogs with 21 points and 11 rebounds after scoring just six points in the first half.
Dee Bost scored 18 points and had six assists for the Bulldogs, who will host North Carolina at 11 a.m. Saturday in the second round of the NIT.
Jackson State''s Garrison Johnson rebounded from a dismal 2-of-8 shooting performance in the first half to finish with a career-high 32 points.
Mississippi State made it to the free throw line 38 times and made 29 of its attempts.
"I''m proud not just because we won the game but because of the way we responded," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "They had every reason to come out tonight and lay an egg, but they didn''t. Our fourth game in our ffth day and everybody knows what we were coming out of.
"Our focus, readiness and togetherness was pretty good. Doesn''t mean you made every shot or caught every pass around the rim, but I was pleased with our effort on offense and defense."
Mississippi State showed its rust early in the game by missing 13 of its first 20 shots. Still, the Bulldogs didn''t trail after being behind 4-2 and led 32-23 at halftime.
Stansbury had expressed concern about his team''s efforts to to rebound physically and emotionally from Sunday''s demoralizing loss to Kentucky.
Varnado admitted the team felt sluggish to start the game.
"We had three games in three days and it took a lot out of us," Varnado said. "We had a hreatbreaking loss and everybody was kind of down. We said to each other, though, ''We can play for another championship.'' We challenged oursevles to just get up and try and win another championship."
As has been the case since they opened the SEC tournament, the Bulldogs thrived off their defense and finished with a 15-to-11 assist-to-turnover ratio.
MSU looked to be cruising in the second half after building a 35-23 lead, only to see Johnson knock down three-straight shots and back-to-back 3s to close the Tigers to within 38-33.
But, in a chain of events Jackson State coach Tevester Anderson didn''t need to happen in its upset bid, backup guard Phillip Williams got a pair of technical fouls and was tossed for dissent after a foul on Dee Bost, which appeared to be below the belt as Bost grimaced while walking to the bench.
Williams left the game with four points, making two of his three attempts.
Williams'' bust up sent Bost to the line for four three throws, which he made and gave the Bulldogs possession. Bost nailed a 3-pointer with the extra possession and gave MSU a 44-33 lead in a nine-point swing.
"It kind of shook up our guys a bit," Anderson said. "They lost one of their teammates. Not saying we would have won the game, but it would have put us in a better spot if that wouldn''t have happened."
Bost laughed off the low blow.
"He punched, a low blow or whatever," Bost said. "I guess he figured they weren''t going to see it. It woke me up."
The Bulldogs widened their lead to 66-49 by the last media timeout under the four-minute mark and kept the lead at double-digits for the remainder of the game.
Kodi Augustus scored 10 points to lead the Bulldogs in the first half and finished with 13 points and five rebounds.
Tyrone Hanson scored 11 points for the Tigers, who finish the season with a 19-13 record.
n NOTES: MSU''s Barry Stewart will have an X-ray on his foot today after being injured Tuesday night.