You wouldn’t be able to tell Texas A&M endured a 33-day layoff from watching the first half of Wednesday’s contest with Mississippi State in College Station.
The Aggies, fired up from deploying a lineup with four seniors on senior night, took a 10-point lead early over the Bulldogs, capitalizing on the visitor’s poor ball handling and subpar free throw percentage.
But because of a stifling defense that mitigated Texas A&M to 32 percent from the floor, MSU (14-12, 8-9 SEC) rallied for a road win, taking down the Aggies 63-57. The Bulldogs snapped a two-game losing streak to the Aggies (8-8, 2-7) despite committing 17 giveaways compared to A&M’s four and shooting an atrocious 3-of-12 clip from the free throw line. Offensive stats equally as paltry could be found from most A&M players not named Emanuel Miller, who finished with a game-high 24 points. Offense beyond the arc was nonexistent for a Texas A&M team playing for the first time since Jan. 30, shooting 4-of-25 from 3-point range.
“I’m really proud of them for (battling) because we’re a team that’s had growing pains and had to change lineups in some situations,” MSU coach Ben Howland said. “It all comes back to our defense.”
While A&M was momentarily bolstered from fulfillment of getting back on the court after a long layoff and the senior night festivities, one of the biggest catalysts of the victory was just as elated after receiving a late-night surprise Tuesday. After not seeing his parents for an entire year, the parents of MSU point guard Iverson Molinar made the trek from Panama to College Station to surprise their son with a visit at the team hotel. A day later in front of his parents, Molinar had a team-high 18 points on a 7 of 12 shooting effort.
“It was really special for him to have them here,” Howland said. “Boy, was he good tonight.”
Midway through the second half, the Bulldogs utilized a key 11-0 run to take a seven-point lead and never trailed past that point. Guards D.J. Stewart and Deivon Smith were huge pieces of the run with both turning in big nights. Stewart scored 14 points for MSU, while Smith scored 7 points, dished out six assists and pulled down a team-high eight rebounds.
“Deivon was huge in that run,” Howland said. “He made a couple nice assists to D.J.”
For as ineffective MSU was at ball security, the Bulldogs were efficient from the field, converting 53 percent of their shots. One contest after only converting 1-of-12 long range shots, MSU was deadly from deep against the Aggies, nailing 8-of-19 3-pointers.
With the win, the Bulldogs still have the possibility of being as high as a seven seed in next week’s Southeastern Conference tournament. For that to happen, MSU would need to beat Auburn Saturday and have LSU beat Missouri. The Bulldogs can be no worse than a nine seed, so the team is guaranteed to surpass its SEC preseason poll projection of 12th. Regardless, MSU will lock in on beating the Tigers to ensure the team finishes at least .500 in SEC play for the fourth consecutive year.
“We have to win whether we’re at home, on the road, wherever,” MSU senior center Abdul Ado said, who finished with five blocks Wednesday. “It’s just a mindset.”
Hodge is the former sports editor for The Dispatch.
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