Mississippi State senior Ravern Johnson scored 21 points Sunday. Photo by: Rogelio V. Solis/AP
January 16, 2011 6:00:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Finally, a chance for Mississippi State''s men''s basketball team to exhale.
The Bulldogs hadn''t found too many positive headlines written about them over the past month in the wake of off-the-court issues, player transfers and a slew of blowout losses.
Sunday, the Bulldogs (10-7, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) were laughing, smiling and throwing alley-oops to one another in an 85-66 wipeout of Auburn.
The 500th game at Humphrey Coliseum was a fitting celebration of two weeks of intense practices to help players adapt to the full-time services of Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost.
After dropping five of six, the Bulldogs won their second-straight game with Sunday''s rout of the Tigers (7-10, 0-3).
"It''s been a while since we''ve had this big of a win by this margin,"MSU guard Ravern Johnson said. "It feels good to know everything is starting to click after everything that''s been going on."
Johnson found the win especially sweet, as he finished with a game-high 21 points. It was his second-highest point total since scoring 26 against St. Mary''s on Dec. 29.
Johnson also shot 8 of 15 from the floor, his first time shooting 50 percent or better since knocking down 4 of 8 shots against Virginia Tech on Dec. 18.
Johnson had been mired in a dismal scoring slump since the team departed for its two-week road swing to the Bahamas and Hawaii. The senior swing man had made just 28 of 96 shots overall and 11 of 46 from 3-point range.
Johnson had a trio of alley-oops and was more active going toward the basket. Just two of Johnson''s makes were 3-pointers.
Johnson said he spent extra time this week working on his shot, which he said felt out of rhythm.
"It was just basically me trying to stay positive about the whole thing," Johnson said. "Coach (Stansbury) was telling me to shoot it until you get back in rhythm, and that''s basically what I''ve been trying to do. Hopefully, every thing''s back on track."
Johnson''s production was a welcome sight for the Bulldogs, who at Ole Miss, leaned heavily on the 49 combined points from Bost and Sidney.
Sunday, Bost and Sidney combined for 24 points and made just eight shots.
Johnson''s ability to rediscover his touch was accompanied by Jalen Steele''s 10 points and Riley Benock''s 11.
Off the bench, Steele recorded his second-highest point total of the season against the team he once signed to play for the Tigers last spring. Steele scored all 10 of his points in the second half, including nine in a two-minute stretch.
He helped MSU register 16 bench points Sunday after they scored only two against the Rebels. Steele scored all 10 of his points in the second half, including nine in a two-minute stretch.
Steele savored Sunday''s victory because of a previous tie to Auburn. He was released from his letter of intent in the spring after Auburn fired coach Jeff Lebo and hired Tony Barbee.
"I always felt good because Mississippi State had seniors, and I could learn from them," Steele said of his decision to join MSU. "Auburn, coaches were new, players were new. I had to come somewhere that already had a system built-in."
Auburn, which entered Sunday averaging 13.5 first-half points, mustered just 22 against the Bulldogs.
The senior-less Tigers dropped their third in a row after winning four straight. The Tigers continued their run as the lowest-scoring team in the SEC.
Auburn was held to 35.8 percent shooting and made just 11 of 24 free throws.
"Offensively, we''re challenged It''s a broken record, but I keep saying
it over and over," Barbee said. We have trouble shooting it. We have trouble making layups. We have trouble throwing it to the post and getting any production. You can''t keep putting yourself behind the 8 ball with a lack of offense against such good teams. But we are what we are."
Despite their stagnant offense, the Tigers made a run midway through the second half and cut MSU''s lead to 53-41 following a 3-pointer from Earnest Ross.
MSU responded with a 15-2 run and held the Tigers at bay through the final whistle.
"Because of our offense, we had to stay with the scrambling defense that we were in," Barbee said. "It worked for awhile and then they obviously took advantage of some of our miscues in the press. That''s what good teams and good players do."
MSU returns to the court Monday at Georgia for the first of three games in eight days. After facing UGA, MSU hosts Vanderbilt and Florida.
Bost hopes his team makes the most of of its practice reps.
Games are funner than practice, but at the same time we need every practice so we can better," he said. "It''s different for us because we''re still trying to get our chemistry and rhythm down."
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