November 19, 2010 8:43:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- One thing was clear to Mississippi State men''s basketball coach Rick Stansbury following his team''s season debut: His newcomers need to do more.
The Bulldogs'' 75-65 win against Tennessee State on Nov. 12 was due in large to the contributions of seniors Kodi Augustus and Ravern Johnson, who combined for 46 points. Augustus and Johnson were the only players to reach double figures.
Augustus had 14 points and Johnson, who eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for his career, hit 13 of 14 free throws, gave Stansbury valuable senior leadership. But their efforts also highlighted how much the Bulldogs need the supporting cast to contribute.
At 7 tonight against Appalachian State (2-0), the Bulldogs will face a pair of explosive guards in juniors Donald Sims and Omar Carter.
While ASU has backcourt experience, MSU is still trying to sort out its lineup.
Stansbury was far from pleased with his guards, who were 6 of 21 from the floor against Tennessee State. More important than scoring, Stansbury would like to see point guards Brian Bryant and Twany Beckham do a better job creating shots for centers Elgin Bailey and Wendell Lewis.
"We hadn''t had many penetrations in that lane, drop that ball off to Elgin for an easy layup," Stansbury said. "We''ve got to have those kinds of baskets. You got to help them create some easy baskets. I think Twany has the ability to do that more than he''s done. I got to help them (guards) get in the lane. I got to do things they know is for them to get in the lane. Sometimes, as a young guy, you don''t see that as well."
Stansbury said Bryant has played timidly in an exhibition win against Lindsey Wilson College and in the opener against TSU. Beckham started but went without a point or an assist in 13 minutes against TSU.
Stansbury said Bryant, a junior college transfer who had seven points and six assists against TSU, hasn''t come close to reaching his potential and just has to relax.
"I think he can do more than what he''s doing," Stansbury said. "He''s better than some things he''s done. He''s a very coachable kid and he wants to do the little things, too. He''ll get better at it.
"He can get in that lane and go score, create more baskets for himself, and create more for other people, get more people easy shots."
Complicating MSU''s adjustment to playing without Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney is the health of Bailey, the starting center. The junior''s rebuilt knee has limited his ability to change directions at full speed and has hampered his ability to challenge for rebounds. While Bailey has expressed confidence in the knee and his ability to provide steady play, Stansbury has become frustrated with his recovery.
Doctors estimated Bailey would return to full fitness between this month -- roughly nine months since he had surgery -- and early March.
"We were hoping he''d be to this point now," Stansbury said. "I''m glad he''s able to do what he can do. When he sets a ball screen, he''ll not make a seal he knows how to do and is good at it just because he can''t get it stopped and turned. He struggles right there."
Bailey played 16 minutes last week, while Lewis, a sophomore, logged 21. Lewis, who has floated between power forward and center, has moved back to center to help fill in for Bailey. Lauded as the team''s most athletic big man, Stansbury would prefer Lewis play a greater role at power forward. But with his experience at center and the lessened responsibilities that come with it, Lewis anticipates staying at center.
"The play wasn''t hard, but the mental stuff like guarding gaps, sealing and all that -- I could do it but it was so much thinking you got to do," Lewis said. "So (Stansbury) just moved me back to the five because it was way more easier for me. I knew the plays and where to go on the court because I played it last year."
Lewis said the Bulldogs have worked on improving their ball screens and spreading the floor to help create easier scoring chances for their post players.
Against ASU, MSU''s guards also will have to defend. Carter scored 35 and Sims had 18 in an 89-86 win at Tulsa. Carter is a former starter for Charleston Southern, where he was freshman of the year in 2008 after scoring 15.5 points per game.
Stansbury didn''t comment on who he would start at point guard and shooting guard, but he said senior Riley Benock will play multiple positions until newcomers Bryant and Jalen Steele gain experience.
"It''s very obvious the point guard''s got to get better at keeping guys out of the lane," Stansbury said. "That''s just a very obvious thing. We''ve struggled guard guards at this point, and we''ve got a real deal guard in Sims coming in here. Your guards are the head of the snake. They''ve got to be able to keep that ball out of the paint."
NOTES: Tickets for tonight''s game are $5 but must be purchased at Humphrey Coliseum. Starting in December, fans can purchase tickets by calling the ticket office. ... Stansbury announced Thursday the signing of three of the Magnolia State''s top players: Rodney Hood (Meridian High), D.J. Gardner (Okolona), and Deville Smith (Jackson Callaway). All three were named to the Clarion Ledger''s Dandy Dozen, and all three are considered top 100 players overall nationally.
1. Bulldogs land commitment from McLaurin at Collins LOCAL SPORTS