NEW YORK — The Mississippi State basketball team’s great start wasn’t fooling Rick Stansbury.
The Bulldogs hit 10 of their first 13 shots from the field in taking a 22-point lead and they hung on for a 69-60 victory against No. 19 Texas A&M on Thursday night in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.
“That was a little bit of fool’s gold, making five 3s like that,” Stansbury said. “Texas A&M is a good basketball team and I knew we weren’t going to maintain that kind of shooting. But I did like our defense, we were pushing them out and we controlled the flow at both ends.”
The Bulldogs (3-1) will play No. 15 Arizona in tonight’s championship game at Madison Square Garden. Arizona (4-0) beat St. John’s 81-72.
Dee Bost had 20 points for MSU, and although the senior guard didn’t score in the big run in the first half, he hit a big 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 16 seconds to play.
“Dee Bost was hard for us to contain,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “He’s not just a good player, he’s a good four-year player.”
Naji Hibbert’s drive with 3:37 to play brought Texas A&M (2-1) within 60-52. Bost hit the 3-pointer 19 seconds later that started a 9-4 run that got them back in control.
Brian Bryant had 12 points for the Bulldogs and freshman Rodney Hood added 10, his third double-figure effort in as many games.
Elston Turner had 13 points for Texas A&M and David Loubeau added 11.
MSU used a 15-0 run to take a 31-9 lead with 10:11 left in the first half. The Bulldogs couldn’t keep up the torrid shooting and the Aggies closed within single digits twice in the first half, the last time on a drive by Turner with 29 seconds left that made it 41-32.
MSU finished the half 12-for-24, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range, and the Aggies, after starting 3 of 14 from the field, shot 42.9 percent for the half (12 of 28).
“It was tough because we knew what they wanted to do in shooting 3s,” Texas A&M guard Dash Harris said. “We gave up too many open looks at the beginning, dug ourselves a hole and we couldn’t come back.”
MSU opened the second half on a 7-0 run to go up 48-32.
Texas A&M was able to get within eight points, but Bost started the deciding run with his second 3-pointer.
Texas A&M was without junior forward Khris Middleton. The preseason All-Big 12 selection had surgery on his right knee Nov. 11 and is expected to miss three to four weeks.
“Khris is an all-conference player and we need him, but defensively that’s no excuse for how we played,” Harris said. “Defense is team-oriented. We miss Khris and we can’t wait to get him back. When he comes back you’ll see a different team. This isn’t how we play.”
This was the second game on the Aggies bench for Kennedy, who was diagnosed with early stage Parkinson’s disease. Kennedy, hired in May, is 0-6 against MSU at four schools — Texas A&M, Southeastern Louisiana, Murray State and Centenary.
Next season this will be a Southeastern Conference game as Texas A&M moves from the Big 12 to the SEC.
“That was a good welcome for them,” Bost said of the future conference opponent. “Give them credit, they’re a good team. They all compete.”
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