STARKVILLE — ‘Twas four days before Christmas at Mississippi State’s house.
Limited fans were stirring, watching a rout. The Bulldogs did their best to treat the ball with care, while Mississippi Valley State’s shots found mostly air.
Made up Christmas poems aside, Mississippi State (5-3) ran roughshod through the Christmas-colored Delta Devils (0-8) Monday at Humphrey Coliseum, picking up a 87-48 victory in its final nonconference game.
“I’ll give them some credit, this game, the final score didn’t feel like a 40-point (win) to be honest with you,” MSU coach Ben Howland said. “I’m glad we got a lot of guys the chance to play tonight.”
The in-state visitors didn’t bolster a roster on paper that posed much of a challenge to the Bulldogs, as KenPom.com ranks Mississippi Valley State as the worst Division I men’s basketball team (out of 357 teams). In its seven games entering play, the closest MVSU had come to a victory was a 27-point defeat. In their other 6 games, the Delta Devils had lost by point spreads of 80, 54, 36, 39, 37 and 43. MVSU lived up to its billing (or lack thereof) by shooting 28.6 percent from the floor and getting outrebounded 47-24. Vegas had the Bulldogs as a 37-point favorite before tipoff, with Howland’s bunch covering the spread by two points.
Regardless of who it played, a win’s a win, so they say, and MSU will now set its eyes on facing Southeastern Conference opponent Georgia in eight days. The Bulldogs’ NCAA tournament resume to this point lacks any quality wins, but doesn’t have any backbreaking losses either.
On Monday, MSU broke away from its trend from the previous four home games, not wasting any time separating itself from an inferior opponent. At the half, MSU led 42-25. MVSU went without a field goal the last 6 minutes of the half, causing MVSU coach Lindsey Hunter to throw down his clipboard in a timeout right before halftime. The lead only grew larger from there and inflated in the final minutes after both teams emptied their bench.
Leading the Bulldogs in scoring was Iverson Molinar with 18 points on a 6 of 10 shooting effort, followed by D.J. Stewart, who chipped in 15 points while going 5-of-8 from the floor.
“Iverson and D.J. are fast forming one of the best backcourts in the SEC in my opinion,” Howland said.
In his second consecutive game in the starting lineup, Jalen Johnson scored in double figures (10) for the second straight game, while Tolu Smith picked up a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Quinten Post was the other MSU player in double figures with 10 points.
“I know my role now and know what coach Howland expects of me,” Post said of coming off the bench.
The Bulldogs destroyed the Delta Devils in transition, scoring 28 fastbreak points while shooting 55.9 percent from the field in the contest. If there was any negative, it came from the foul line, as the Bulldogs shot a subpar 12-of-22 from the charity stripe.
“Our foul shooting is still really disappointing,” Howland said.
MSU is back in action at 6 p.m. on Dec. 30 in its SEC opener against Georgia on the road.
Hodge is the former sports editor for The Dispatch.