STARKVILLE — New Orleans’ Damien Rosser was a step too slow.
When he turned his head, Mississippi State’s Robert Woodard II had already cut to the basket. Woodard II caught a pass from teammate KeyShawn Feazell, and let his vertical leap do the rest.
Rosser had no choice but to foul.
It didn’t matter. Woodard II converted the basket despite the contact. “AND-ONE,” the Columbus native bellowed.
That wasn’t the first time he’d get to yell that phrase Sunday.
The sophomore forward’s career-high 21 points and 16 rebounds led Mississippi State to a 82-59 victory over New Orleans at Humphrey Coliseum.
“It’s just a matter of playing hard,” Woodard II said. “You can’t put a limit on how hard you play.”
Woodard II was everywhere in the post on both ends of the floor, blocking two shots, stealing three passes and dishing out four assists. He made 8 of 14 shots and 2 of 3 long range attempts.
“This is just the beginning for him,” MSU coach Ben Howland said. “He’s going to have a lot of big nights in his career with the Bulldogs. It’s all about how hard he’s worked. He’s paid the price to be this good.”
At the end of the day, Woodard II was a stat stuffer, and his team knew it.
“He was just methodical,” Howland said. “He just kept doing what he does … He might as well be serving popcorn as well.”
Woodard II already surpassed his career-high in points by the time the first half ended, scoring 15 entering the break.
“The energy was just high,” Woodard II said. “Even before the game. My teammates were into it and the vibe was right even at breakfast.”
At halftime, MSU (4-0) led 38-28, then began the second half on an 11-2 run to seal its fourth straight victory.
Meanwhile, Reggie Perry finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, coming one board short of his third straight double-double. Redshirt freshman guard D.J. Stewart was also in double figures, scoring 13 points off the bench. Iverson Molinar also chipped in 10 points in 29 minutes.
MSU outrebounded New Orleans 45-27, including a 18-9 offensive rebound advantage. The Bulldogs shot 50.8 percent from the floor and held the Privateers to 37.9 percent shooting.
Bryson Robinson and Troy Green each had 14 points for New Orleans (1-3).
“I think coach Howland has put together a roster that plays to their strength,” New Orleans coach Mark Slessinger said. “Not just with their offensive skillset, but he’s one of the best defensive coaches in the country. The roster really fits and plays into that really well.”
Sunday was the third straight night the MSU defense held an opponent to less than 60 points.
“We expect to be a good defense because of our size and our length,” Howland said.
With the win, the Bulldogs extend their nonconference home winning streak to 26 games, the longest active streak in the Southeastern Conference.
MSU is back in action against Tulane at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Myrtle Beach Invitational.
“We expected to be 4-0,” Howland said of his expectations for his team in the early going. “We expect to win every game we play.”
Quinten Post scored his first career basket at Mississippi State after cleaning up a rebound … Howland said once point guard Nick Weatherspoon returns from suspension, he hopes to rest his players after 6-to-7 minute shifts instead of the 10 to 11 minutes he’s demanded of Woodard II and Tyson Carter before giving the pair their first rest … Feazell and Carter each came one point short of finishing in double figures, scoring nine apiece … For the second consecutive game, MSU committed a season-low 14 turnovers … Both Woodard and Howland conceded the near defeat at the hands of Sam Houston State in the second game of the year lit a fire under the Bulldogs, and the team has been much more focused defensively since.
Hodge is the former sports editor for The Dispatch.
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