March 5, 2011 10:16:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Ravern Johnson has been in the zone since returning from a two-game suspension.
On Senior Day Saturday, the Mississippi State guard scored 21 points, dished out two assists, and had two steals in a 60-58 win against South Carolina. The performance was the third straight game in which he has scored 20 points or more points, and the sixth in which he has scored 15 or more.
Johnson''s effort helped the Bulldogs (17-13, 9-7 Southeastern Conference) win their third straight game, and fourth in their past five.
MSU needed every bit of Johnson''s offense against a zone defense it hadn''t seen for 40 minutes during its winning streak.
Johnson hit 7 of 14 from behind the arc -- all of his made baskets -- and hit two in a 17-9 second-half run that gave the Bulldogs a 51-40 lead.
"That''s pretty good shooting right there," MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. "I had to think hard of when Ray''s taken a bad shot -- I can''t remember the last time. He''s fought defensively better. He''s rebounded that basketball better. I like where he is. He''s handled some things very well. It''s shown in his play, too."
Johnson said South Carolina''s zone defense bothered the Bulldogs initially, but they worked their way through it to get Kodi Augustus and Renardo Sidney looks inside.
Johnson''s accuracy from deep carried the Bulldogs in the first half, as he had 15 of their first 29 points -- all 3-pointers.
In the past six games, Johnson has hit 31 of 57 shots beyond the arc.
"I''ve been getting a lot of shots up after practice, doing things to keep my mind ready to take shots," Johnson said. "It''s just a lot of repetition I''ve been doing. When it''s game time, I''ve been ready and knocking them down."
Johnson wasn''t the only senior to shine for the Bulldogs. Augustus (15 points, 10 rebounds) had his ninth double-double of the year, and second in the past three games. He hit 3 of 4 3-pointers.
His defense on Sam Muldrow, who entered the game averaging 11.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.4 blocked shots per game, forced point guard Bruce Ellington, who led the Gamecocks with 15, into taking ill-advised shots.
Muldrow posted 25 points and 12 rebounds in a 73-69 loss to Tennessee on Thursday, but had 10 points and one block against MSU.
"They don''t score in that block a whole lot except driving that ball in there and getting offensive rebounds," Stansbury said. "For the most part, we kept him out of that soft spot and getting easy looks at the basket.
"Kodi''s really playing hard. He guarded Muldrow a lot today, so give him a lot of credit for keeping Muldrow from getting that mid-range post on him."
Stansbury was relieved to see his team earn the Senior Day victory after being blown out by Tennessee last season. Then, the Bulldogs had a longer video highlight and extended ceremony, which created added emotion Stansbury attributed to the team''s slow start and sluggish play. He scaled back the Senior Day festivities to the usual routine of presenting framed jerseys to players.
South Carolina coach Darrin Horn noticed the difference.
"They did what upperclassmen do," Horn said.
Though MSU led by as many as 13 points in the second half, turnovers and two different runs made the Bulldogs work for it.
The Gamecocks (14-15, 5-11) reeled off a 9-0 run behind two buckets from Ellington and cut the double-digit deficit to four with 3 minutes, 24 seconds remaining. The Bulldogs had three of their six turnovers in the stretch.
Bost extended the lead to 55-49 with a pair of free throws before Ellington answered with a trey. Malik Cooke and Muldrow hit back-to-back buckets to cut the lead to one before Augustus hit a fadeaway jumper as the shot clock expired to give MSU a 59-56 lead.
Stansbury then was called for a technical foul after coming on the court to call a timeout.
Cooke hit a pair of free throws to cut MSU''s lead to 59-58 with less than 30 seconds to play, but Ellington took the first of two airmailed 3-pointers to end the game.
Stansbury was called for a technical at Kentucky that resulted in a momentum shift and four-point swing just before halftime. He felt fortunate the technical didn''t cost the team with it coming late in the contest.
"Y''all know what I was trying to do," Stansbury said. "But I take full responsibility for it."
The Bulldogs enter the SEC tournament as the No. 2 seed from the Western Division and open play Friday at 9 p.m. against an opponent to be determined.
MSU has five of its past eight. The losses have been by a total of 11 points.
"We''ve been playing good the last three games and got a lot of momentum going into the SEC tournament," Johnson said. "I feel like we''re always going to play good in the SEC tournament. It''s just something about the tournament that we always click together at the end."
NOTES: Bost had eight assists, marking the fourth time in the past five games he has had eight or more.