STARKVILLE — DeVille Smith proved Thursday his performance Saturday night at the University of Arkansas wasn’t a fluke.
Smith scored most of his career-high 25 points after the Mississippi State University men’s basketball team already trailed by more than 20 points at Bud Walton Arena.
But the freshman point guard from Jackson backed up the effort in his Southeastern Conference debut against the University of Tennessee and helped keep No. 20 MSU from suffering back-to-back SEC losses.
With SEC first-team preseason selection Dee Bost in early foul trouble, MSU coach Rick Stansbury called on Smith earlier than expected and he provided a spark and had the crowd of 7,588 at Humphrey Coliseum in shock at some of the athletic maneuvering in a dazzling first-half show.
“I thought DeVille Smith came off the bench and added to our first-half offense,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “He seemed to be a step faster than everybody else out there tonight.”
Smith had five assists (no turnovers), two rebounds, and hit two free throws in 15 minutes in the first half to help MSU earn a 62-58 victory and improve to 14-3 and 1-1 in the SEC .
When the freshman walked to the scorer’s table, the game was tied at 8. By the end of the half, MSU nearly had built its biggest lead and led 36-27.
Smith closed the half with a four-minute stretch that featured assists on a dunk by Arnett Moultrie and a jump shot by Rodney Hood. He then went coast to coast to feed junior forward Wendell Lewis behind his back for a two-handed stuff.
“I’d seen him in high school, and he’s one of the toughest freshman in the league,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “He’s at his best when he’s pushing the ball putting pressure on you, and I thought did a good job getting in the lane and making stuff happen.”
Smith entered the game shooting 45.8 percent from the field, but even though he went 0-for-5, all eyes were on the man who tied a career high with five assists.
Lewis gets career high in blocks
Wendell Lewis consistently says when asked by the media that he prefers not to score and to help the team in other ways. That’s what the junior forward did Thursday after matching a career high in blocked shots with five.
“We needed Wendell tonight, and he stepped up at all the right times to help us on defense,” Moultrie said.
The most important deflection came with 1 minute, 47 seconds left in the game and guard Josh Robinson floating toward the goal on a fast break. The Bulldogs’ 6-foot-8 forward hustled down the floor and came from behind the 6-6 Robinson and turned the layup attempt away to keep the Volunteers’ deficit at six.
Lewis, who is averaging 22 minutes per contest, also blocked five shots against St. Mary’s in Las Vegas last year.
Steele beats hometown team
MSU sophomore guard Jalen Steele had a significant number of missed calls and text messages on his phone when he returned to the locker room Thursday night.
“It was big seeing them lose to us finally,” Steele said. “I’ve already started getting those messages.”
The Knoxville, Tenn., native, who nailed two 3-pointers to begin each half, was a part of his first career win against Tennessee since signing with MSU nearly two years ago.
“I’m out there to make these type of shots,” Steele said. “Basically my job is go out there and play hard and make the open looks when they come to me.”
Steele, who went to Fulton High School, wasn’t active for last year’s victory at Thompson-Boling Arena. The 6-foot-3 guard had suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee before the game and was unable to make the trip.