November 23, 2010 10:04:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- All three of Mississippi State''s men''s basketball wins this season haven''t been pretty. But as long as there''s improvement and a "W," the Bulldogs will take them as they come.
Like it had done in its previous two wins, MSU found itself in a close game late, made free throws down the stretch, got another 20-plus point performance from Ravern Johnson and found a way to manufacture an 82-76 win Monday over the University of Detroit.
MSU watched a 12-point lead at the five-minute mark of the second half dwindle to as little as three points against the Titans.
The Bulldogs opened the season Nov. 12 by staving off a Tennessee State rally that cut their lead to five with 30 seconds left to play. MSU followed that narrow win with a nail-biter against Appalachian State, which held a nine--point lead with less than two minutes to play Friday.
The close calls have become a trend, which has its pros and cons, MSU forward Kodi Augustus said.
"Obviously, we want to blow people out," Augustus said. "But like I said, it''s good and bad. It gives you experience in those types of situations at the end of games."
MSU (3-0) hit 6-of-8 free throws under the two-minute mark of the second half and 10 of-16 overall against the Titans (1-2). The Bulldogs have been consistent from the lane at the end of games, hitting 10 of 11 against TSU and 8 of 10 versus Appalachian State during the last two minutes of each game.
Johnson has been the consistent individual component of MSU''s team, which head coach Rick Stansbury admitted has been "mixed and matched" with new players on the floor and starters serving NCAA suspensions.
Just nine of Johnson''s 25 points came from behind the 3-point line as he continues to round out his game with different ways of scoring.
"They were playing a little physical and we couldn''t get into our set, so I did what I had to do to go points for the team," Johnson said. "I understand a lot more. Me and the coaches talk about what I got to do in the game offensively and defensively, so I just take that into mind when I get out on the floor."
Johnson helped hold off a Detroit rally in the second half, extending a three-point lead to 66-56 through an and-1 dunk and and a 3-pointer that forced Detroit to call a timeout at the midway point. He had nine points during a 13-7 run that gave MSU a 73-61 lead with five minutes to play.
Johnson played 37 minutes, a total matched only by fellow senior Riley Benock, who scored a career-high 13 points. Benock made five of a career-high nine attempts and had two assists and three steals.
The usually passive Benock said getting in an early groove -- he scored 10 in the first half -- made him more comfortable to pull the trigger.
"That just kind of gets you a little bit more of a scorer''s mentality at that point," Benock said. "It gives you confidence to keep shooting."
Stansbury said the Bulldogs enter each game hoping to get 45 combined points from Johnson and senior forward Kodi Augustus. Because the latter struggled from the floor with just 10 points, Benock''s aggressiveness on offense was a welcome sight.
"I''ve been here four years and this is the first time that he''s been shooting like that," Johnson said. "I''m loving it because a lot of guys are gonna play off of him. That''s easy points for us."
Benock''s almost unnoticed contribution was on the defensive end of the floor against Detroit power forward Nick Minnerath, who was roughly three inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than the MSU guard.
When MSU''s lineup went small, Benock kicked to the four and had success. Minnerath scored 12 points, but three of his four buckets were on put-backs.
"Fought him and never got hurt in the post," Stansbury said of Benock. "We got away with it a little bit."
Stansbury is keen to see his designated utility man take advantage of the offensive mismatch he creates with his shooting range.
"The good thing about it, he''s shooting the basketball," Stansbury added. "At the four, he gets more shots. For Riley Benock, I don''t know when you have to look back to see when he shot nine shots."
Detroit''s bench contributed just six points and 22 minutes as the team leaned on its trio of guards who combined for 49 shots. Jason Calliste scored the team''s only 3-point shots (4) and finished with 20 points.
Calliste caught fire late in the second half, scoring 10 of the Titans'' 12 points during a run that closed the gap to 76-73 with 1:14 left.
Detroit head coach Ray McCallum bemoaned the lack of production from leading scorer Eli Holman, who had 10 boards but was ineffective on offense with just five points and five turnovers. Holman scored 18 in the team''s loss at Syracuse, and was MSU''s first target on the defensive end.
"So much of our game starts with [Holman]," McCallum said. "He''s a proven player and our best player around the basket. Us not being able to get any baskets from him the first half really affects our offense. We like to play four-out, one-in, similar to MSU.
"He''s still got to be a productive inside scorer. We got career nights from everybody else."
Point guard Twany Beckham had a game-high six assists and nine points. Backup forward Wendell Lewis scored six points and grabbed six boards.
The Bulldogs registered a season-high 17 offensive rebounds.
MSU returns to the court Friday when it hosts Troy at 6 p.m. Tickets are $5 on a walk-up basis. Advanced tickets can be bought ahead of time starting in December.