Varnado leads the way

STARKVILLE – Rick Stansbury got what he wanted from his bench, and he got a nice polishing-off job from his starters.
And Mississippi State got its first win of the season.
The Bulldogs (1-1), already short-handed and stung by last week’s season-opening loss to Rider, rebounded with an 82-67 win over Southeastern Louisiana on Thursday night before a Humphrey Coliseum crowd of 4,544.
Senior Jarvis Varnado had 20 points, nine rebounds and eight blocks, and MSU quelled a second-half rally by the Lions (2-1).
“I thought our guys found a way to suck it up a little more in the second half than we did the other night,” said Stansbury.
After the Lions cut a 16-point deficit in half, Stansbury put all five starters back on the floor at the 10-minute, 15-second mark of the second half. Southeastern Louisiana managed to hang around a while longer, but MSU went on a 15-6 run, pulling out to a 77-60 lead on Barry Stewart’s 3-pointer at the 2:05 mark.
Four of the starters finally checked out at the 1:03 mark, game well in hand.
“That’s not hard to figure out, is it?” Stansbury said with a wry smile. “I didn’t want them to just keep hanging around the next two minutes and decide to do that.”
Stansbury was pleased with his bench play, too.
“We’ve got to keep getting more from our bench until we can settle in with everything,” he said.
MSU was without starting forward Kodi Augustus, who was suspended for this game and Saturday’s game against Bethune-Cookman because of his criticism of Stansbury after the Rider loss.
So Phil Turner, a starter last year, was back at the four spot. The 6-foot-3 junior had 10 points and tied his career high with 14 rebounds.
Stewart had 13 points.
Stansbury was able to lean more heavily on his starters after halftime, and they didn’t tire out like they did against Rider.
“We had three days of practice, so we got a lot of conditioning in,” said Varnado, who’s three blocks shy of tying Shaquille O’Neal’s SEC career mark of 412.
Varnado did a better job defensively than he did against Rider, when Mike Ringgold scored 21 on him. SLU big man Patrick Sullivan scored 20, but on 21 shots, and he had little success going straight at Varnado.
MSU outscored SLU in the paint, 38-20, and dominated the rebounding battle, 47-30.
Just as it did against Rider, MSU jumped out to a big early lead, ballooning to 29-14 on a Turner putback. This time, that lead didn’t slip away.
Ravern Johnson, who scored 17 for MSU, hit his first three 3-point shots and had 11 points by halftime, when State held a 41-29 lead.
Point guard Dee Bost, who strained a groin muscle on Monday, had 10 points, five boards and four assists in 32 minutes.
Junior Elgin Bailey saw his first action since severely spraining his ankle against Florida in March. The 6-8, 265-pound forward entered late in the first half and played three minutes.

Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal