By LEE ADAMS
No. 24 Mississippi State didn't need its big men to pick up a 78-63 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Monday.
The Bulldogs (5-1) were without Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney due to injuries, but the Bulldogs got big performances from Dee Bost, Rodney Hood and Brian Bryant.
"We knew it was going to be a struggle as we were down a couple of players," said MSU head coach Rick Stansbury. "I was proud of the way our guys stepped up and responded."
The game started with a battle of 3-pointers as the teams combined for four of them before a field goal was scored. ULM (0-5) hit more threes than MSU and had an early lead.
"In the first six or seven minutes it looked like we had a hangover and didn't understand how good Louisiana-Monroe was," said Stansbury. "After that we finished the half on a good run and I think Dee Bost and Brian Bryant really stepped up."
Bost, who led the team with 21 points, said Stansbury told them what they needed to do during the first timeout to claim the lead.
"Coach said we had to pick it up," said Bost. "He said don't look at their record or the name of the team, we had to set the tone."
As MSU was trying to gain the lead and set the tone, ULM was able to hold onto the lead until Bost hit a 3-pointer with 4:04 left in the first half to give State its first lead of the night at 24-23. The Bulldogs went on a 16-3 run in the final minutes of the first half and held a 31-26 lead at the break.
The second half started with the teams going back-and-forth, but a Bryant basket gave the Bulldogs the momentum with 13 minutes left to play. Bryant, who finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds for his first career double-double, drove the lane and dunked over a 6-foot-3 defender, followed by a coast-to-coast steal and dunk to give MSU the 46-41 lead and an added spark.
After the dunk, steal and other dunk, Bryant was seen screaming toward ULM players and the chest bumping his teammates.
"I got caught up in the hype," said Bryant. "I had a lot of energy in the run and that passed on to my teammates and we went on a run."
The Bulldogs seemed to get some daylight between them and the Warhawks after Bryant's momentum-changing plays.
After struggling offensively in the first half, MSU seemed to make adjustments in the second which led to the win.
"I thought we adjusted really well in the second half," said Stansbury, "I thought we were really efficient and I think Rodney Hood as a freshman made great adjustments."
Hood, who was named as SEC Freshman of the Week on Monday morning, showed why he was named that and made a good case for the honor next week as he scored a career-high 20 points.
Even though Hood had a great night with his 20 points and 9-13 field goal shooting, Bost and Bryant appeared to lead the team.
"Both of them stepped up tonight," said Stansbury. "Dee stepped up defensively. He got the ball where it needed to go and made some tough shots on offense. Bryant got in the passing lanes and got a couple of good dunks to add a spark to the team."
Bryant felt that with the big guys being out, that he and the other guards had to step up.
"We knew that our two biggest rebounders would be out tonight," said Bryant. "We knew that all the guards had to go out and rebound and that's what our mindset was."
Bryant and his fellow guards picked up most of the 32 rebounds in last night's win, but they will be happy to get Moultrie and Sidney back in the lineup.
"Sidney is day-by-day as he has a hurt wrist from the last game," said Stansbury. "Moultrie has tendonitis in his knees and it has been bothering him a lot. I wish we did not have them both out at once."
Even with the two big men out, the Bulldogs were able to win the rebound battle 32-26 and get a win that is extra important as they earned their first top 25 ranking in almost two years.
Now that MSU is ranked, it has a little added pressure, but Bost told his teammates what they needed to do before last night's win.
"Being ranked is a good thing, but no matter who you play you still have to play the same way," said Bost. "We just told each other to go out with the same mentality that we did the last two games."
MSU will return to action on Friday when they host UT Martin at 7 p.m.