Mississippi State players Aric Holman (35) and Tyson Carter (23) start the celebration as the No. 18 Bulldogs knock off Cincinnati 70-59 Saturday night at Humphrey Coliseum. Photo by: Kelly Donoho/Mississippi State Athletic Media Relations
December 15, 2018 11:04:19 PM
STARKVILLE -- Cincinnati gave Mississippi State no other option but to win the hard way. The rim was never accessible to Bulldog shooters and the Bearcats relentlessly attacked the tin on MSU's side.
Faced with nothing but winning in a grind, the No. 18 Bulldogs did just that.
Through the first half, shooting from 3-point range was easier than shooting in the lane and Cincinnati didn't let it get easier in the second half. Some of its best 3-point shooting (52.2 percent) and excellent defense throughout got MSU (9-1) its most impressive win of the season, a 70-59 statement over Cincinnati.
"(MSU coach Ben Howland) had been preaching all week that they were tough, so I wanted to out physical them," freshman forward Reggie Perry said.
Howland added, "There were so many plays of fight and grit and toughness, and that's what it takes to be good."
Perry was a noticeable part of that effort with four rebounds, two of them offensive, and a tough 12 points. All told, MSU outrebounded Cincinnati (9-2) by four and generated more second-chance points (14) on the same number of offensive rebounds (11) as Cincinnati.
That doesn't mean it came easy.
Five Bearcat blocks made life hard for MSU in the paint. Even when they weren't blocking shots, they made easy shots hard -- MSU shot 4-for-12 from the lane in the first half.
That struggle was most evident early in the second half, when MSU missed seven of its first eight shots as the Bearcats tied the game.
As in many other tough moments, the offense ran through sophomore point guard Lamar Peters.
Peters ended with 14 points and nine assists, almost all of his assists to 3-pointers. His two steals also generated fast break opportunities that ultimately got MSU in the lane.
"I thought Lamar was masterful tonight," Howland said. "Nine assists and two turnovers is really good, in particular against that defense."
Starkville's own Tyson Carter was one of four Bulldogs in double-digit points with 12, but every point came at a critical juncture. His fastbreak dunk with fewer than nine minutes to go put MSU up seven, a lead that felt much bigger than that with the level of MSU's defense; his corner 3 four minutes later was the true dagger, putting MSU up 10 with less than four to play.
"It felt like a dagger, but we had a couple of plays down the stretch that felt like a dagger," Carter said.
None were more lethal than the one well after the true death knell was delivered. The legions of maroon in the building had already stood to celebrate the win 30 seconds away from becoming official when Peters took the ball across the halfcourt line. Two seconds separated the shot clock from the game clock, meaning a shot had to be taken.
Peters provided a fitting end by hitting a 3-pointer. Cincinnati forced MSU to win the hard way, and Peters sent the Bearcats home with one last reminder that MSU can do it.
MSU's days of playing in front of a mostly empty Humphrey Coliseum ended Saturday night. 9,120 witnessed the win -- more than 1,000 more than any of its games to date.
"The crowd was phenomenal," Howland said. "I'm so thankful for everyone that came to be here in person and support their Bulldogs, that was awesome. Awesome atmosphere, awesome crowd and our players fed off that."
Carter added, "That was the loudest game of the year. The fans helped us out with the homeport advantage, that was fun."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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