STARKVILLE — The Mississippi State men”s basketball team”s exhibition opener against Lindsey Wilson College showed how different the Bulldogs will look this season.
Rarely did the Bulldogs exit a game last season feeling like they didn”t defend well. And there were few times they failed to get a point from their starting backcourt players.
Such was the case Saturday at Humphrey Coliseum, as the Bulldogs trailed at halftime and with two minutes left in the game before pulling out a 75-66 win.
Thanks to a combined 44 points from seniors Ravern Johnson and Kodi Augustus, the Bulldogs escaped an upset after a 3-of-15 shooting performance from their guards.
“That”s the two guys we”ve got who”ve been here,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “Twany (Beckham) and Riley (Benock), neither one of them scored. A couple of guys we got to depend on, more so, is Kodi and Ravern. And I thought Kodi was aggressive. We got to find things more. Those guys have to be a bigger part.”
MSU, which committed nine turnovers in the first half and allowed 10 LWC free throws, struggled to contain guards Kalen Kimberland and Justin Archie — both Division I transfers. The duo combined for 11 points, drawing Stansbury”s praise and subsequent criticism of his team”s perimeter defense in the absence of center Jarvis Varnado.
“It”s obvious with us, we weren”t very good defensively,” Stansbury said. “(Lindsey Wilson”s) guards went and manufactured a basket anytime they wanted to manufacture a basket. There”s too many times, again, when that game”s on the line, you let them drive that basketball to the hole. That can”t happen, especially since we don”t have an eraser back there (Varnado). Again, we”re letting the ball go by with no eraser.”
MSU was fortunate not to have trailed by more than seven points with the disjointed play it was working through, especially to start the game. Despite opening the game on a 7-2 run, the Bulldogs started the first eight minutes of the game by committing five turnovers, conceding four offensive rebounds, and going through two different lineups on the floor.
Stansbury said his team didn”t take LWC lightly, though nerves, especially for the team”s group of newcomers, was a factor.
Augustus, who scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half, said the nerves were to be expected. He also attributed the team”s sluggish start to poor communication between the frontcourt and backcourt players.
“It”s a process you have to go through,” Augustus said. “Nothing can replace that experience factor. At halftime, (we) were just trying to communicate better. On one instance I was trying to tell Twany to go underneath the screen and he went over the top. Just communication with what I was telling him on the court so we could have a better understanding that when the play came again we could execute better.”
The Bulldogs trailed 31-27 at halftime, and Bailey, who has proven to be the team”s emotional leader, was charged with bringing life to the team.
Though he feels his team”s defense improved, its consensus is they need more work ahead of next Friday”s regular season opener against Tennessee State.
“Our defense is horrible, terrible right now,” Bailey said. “We”re actually letting them score, like here, here goes the bucket. After I told them that, we just came out more aggressive on the defensive end.
“We”re cool with the offensive game. We”re dwelling on our defense.”
LWC head coach Paul Peck saw his team”s youth show down the stretch, as he has 11 new players after dismissing many of last year”s crew due to “selfish” play.
“In the last two minutes, they did not play well. It”s early,” he said. “I have 11 new players this year, and that”s the first time we”ve ever had that many. They did not finish well, and that comes from experience.”
Kimberland paced LWC with 21 points.
Bailey had 12 points and three rebounds, while Augustus added 19 rebounds.