By MATTHEW STEVENS
When Mississippi State finally gets back its two star players off suspension, one thing is for sure – they’ll have experience in nail-biter type moments.
The Bulldogs survived another tight rope walk with disaster Monday night by hanging on to a 82-76 win over the University of Detroit.
“Nothing comes easy for us,” Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury said. “I’m proud we just found ways to get a W.”
MSU doesn’t get back Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney until after New Year’s Day due to a pair of NCAA sanctions but State has now had 22 of its last 26 games, dating back to last year, decided by less than a double-figure margin.
“It’s good and it’s bad because obviously we want to blow people out,” senior forward Kodi Augustus said. “It gives you experience in those type of situations at the end of games.”
Sidney received a two-part penalty from the NCAA that included losing eligibility of the 2009-10 season due to unethical conduct and being forced to sit out an additional 30 percent of this season due to impermissible benefits received prior to signing and arriving on the Mississippi State campus.
MSU won’t have Bost until the beginning of the spring semester when State takes the court for its Southeastern Conference opener at Humphrey Coliseum against Alabama on Jan. 8.
Senior guard Ravern Johnson led the Bulldogs in scoring Monday with a game-high 25 points off just 15 shots, which were mostly open looks off the Titans multiple defenses.
“We knew they were going to switch up defenses a lot and we had a good scouting report about it,” Johnson said.
In a strange game that saw Detroit (1-3) keep its deficit under 10 points throughout the second half but never take the lead, Mississippi State survived a comeback effort by Detroit thanks to a poor shooting effort from beyond the arc.
After a up-and-down pace to the opening half that included Titans star guard Ray McCallum Jr., breaking down Mississippi State’s Twany Beckham for layups, Detroit got zero points the rest of the first session from McCallum and UDM leading scorer Eli Holman.
“We found a way to keep the big guy from killing us,” Stansbury said. “We just to keep finding ways to hide things we don’t do very well and have things that fit with what we can do with this team.”
Holman, a 6-foot-10 post presence that came in averaging 17.7 points per game after impressive outings against New Mexico and Syracuse on the road wasn’t able to bring that type of performance to Starkville finishing with just five points on 2-for-5 shooting from the field.
“So much of our game starts with him,” Detroit head coach Ray McCallum Sr. said. “He’s a proven and established player around the baskets. I think their bodies played a factor with him but he’s got to be a productive inside scorer.”
Mississippi State’s floor leaders at the guard position which had been a complete non-factor in the Bulldogs (3-0) first two regular season games had a total of 13 assists while handing over just five turnovers Monday evening.
“When we push it, we’re a better team and when Brian (Bryant) and I do that it allows for our shooters to get open quickly,” Beckham said.
The combination of Beckham and Bryant did a much better job defending Detroit’s pro-style pick and roll offense led by the son of the head coach.
McCallum Jr., a McDonald’s All-American from last year’s recruiting class who picked his father’s school over Arizona, Oklahoma and Florida, still finished one shy of a career-high with 16 points.
State won’t be on the floor again until the day after Thanksgiving when they host Troy University for a 6 p.m. tipoff.