TAMPA, Fla. – There’s something about Tampa that brings out the best in Mississippi State.
Returning to the St. Pete Times Forum, where they made an improbable run to the SEC Tournament championship last March, the Bulldogs routed DePaul 76-45 Thursday night in the SEC/Big East Invitational.
MSU now makes a coast-to-coast dash to play UCLA on Saturday in Los Angeles. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m.
With Thursday’s victory, the Bulldsogs improved to 2-1 in games played away from home this season. Overall, they have now won three games in a row.
“We came in here very confident,” Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said after Ravern Johnson had 14 points and Jarvis Varnado scored 12 points and grabbed 14 rebounds for the Bulldogs (6-2).
“Our guys hit that floor this morning and I could see a hop in their step already. There’s a lot of good memories,” said Stansbury, whose team won four times in four days here to earn an automatic berth in last season’s NCAA tournament. “We came out of that same locker room and went down that same hall, so there was a lot of good feelings.
“The thing about this time, we only had to do it one game.”
Romero Osby had 13 points, Barry Stewart scored 12 and Kodi Augustus contributed 11 for Mississippi State, which made 12 3-pointers en route to its third straight win.
DePaul (5-3) shot less than 18 percent in the opening half and finished 18-for-64. The Blue Demons trailed by 20 at halftime and didn’t get any closer the rest of the way.
“The one thing that stands out about their team is that they have five guys averaging double figures. That always presents a problem,” DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright said. “They had some kids I thought played better than they have all year.”
All three of DePaul’s losses have come against SEC teams. Tennessee and Vanderbilt also defeated the Blue Demons, who went 0-18 in Big East regular-season play last year.
“We were overwhelmed by our lack of offense,” Wainwright said. “We had some incredible droughts tonight.”
Mississippi State led 35-15 at the half, making 9 of 18 from behind the 3-point line.
The Bulldogs didn’t make a 2-point field goal for the first 18 minutes of the game. Osby’s layup snapped the drought and Jarvis Varnado followed with a three-point play to put the Bulldogs up by 22.
DePaul shot 17.9 percent in the opening half, missing 23 of 28 shots. Leading scorer Will Walker set the tone for a low-scoring night, going 2-for-11 before halftime and finishing 5 of 21 for 12 points.
Johnson scored all but two of his points in the first half. Varnado took up the slack with 11 points and nine rebounds after the break.
Eric Wallace scored 15 points for DePaul, all in the second half.
Fred Goodall/The Associated Press