By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Rick Stansbury was just happy to get out of this one in one piece.
With Ravern Johnson sitting on the bench, Mississippi State struggled early but finished off Alabama State on Tuesday, 67-46, in front of 2,776 at Humphrey Coliseum.
The win closed out a season-opening nine-game homestand for the Bulldogs (7-2), and it was their fourth game in as many days.
“It’s one of those games you just find a way to survive,” Stansbury said. “I thought our guys the second half did do one thing that you’ve got to do to win: You’ve got to come out and show a little bit of grit. We were tired, it was four games, playing without Ray – a lot of things stacked against us.”
Johnson, a senior and MSU’s leading scorer at 23.8 points per game, was benched for missing too many classes this semester. It’s just a one-game suspension, and Stansbury said he decided “a long time ago” that Johnson would sit out this game.
That might’ve been because Alabama State (1-8), of the SWAC, just isn’t very good.
It entered the game with an RPI rating of 281 and is one of the lowest-scoring teams in the country.
But ASU, which trailed by nine early, used a 10-0 run to storm into the lead late in the first half and held a 28-26 edge at halftime. MSU went the final 7 minutes, 16 seconds of the half without a field goal and committed 12 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.
MSU got it together right out of the break, with Riley Benock draining a couple of 3-pointers to send the Bulldogs on a 23-5 surge. The lead steadily swelled to 14 points as ASU missed 18 of its first 20 field goals in the half.
The margin eventually reached 54-35 with 6:49 left.
“It was kind of a focal point from the beginning, not necessarily just myself, but everybody in general, we knew we had a spot to fill,” said Benock, who had 11 points and six rebounds. “Somebody averaging 23, 25 a game, that’s a big hole. But we had guys step up.”
Junior forward Elgin Bailey scored a career-high 13 points to go with seven rebounds for MSU, while point guard Brian Bryant added 11 points.
The Bulldogs shot 48.5 percent in the second half, and they switched to a 2-3 zone on defense to hold ASU to just 20.6 percent.
Kenderek Washington led the Hornets with nine points.