By Gregg Ellis
STARKVILLE – Georgia shouldn’t feel all that bad.
After all, LSU struggled to make shots and score, too.
Three days after holding the Tigers to 39 points and 21 percent shooting, the Bulldogs stymied Georgia nearly as bad on Saturday afternoon in front of a crowd of 6,703 at Humphrey Coliseum.
In State’s 60-49 victory, it held the Dogs to 16-of-65 shooting (24.6 percent), including a 3-of-17 mark from 3-point range.
The key was the Bulldogs’ ability to once again block shots.
They totaled a school-record 16, with Jarvis Varnado swatting away 10, which tied his career high.
In the last two games, he’s been credited with 17.
“It’s just something I do,” said Varnado, who also scored nine points and grabbed nine rebounds despite playing the second half with a twisted right ankle. “I’m 6’9 and I’m long. I just keep going for it. I pride myself on not letting other guys score on me.”
Three of the blocks came on one trip down the court with 7 minutes, 13 seconds left in the first half and State holding a 14-9 advantage.
Varnado’s presence in the paint, UGA coach Dennis Felton said, definitely made a difference.
“I don’t have to be a genius (to know what happened),” said the fifth-year coach, whose team fell to 9-5 overall and 0-1 in the SEC. “They blocked 16 shots.
“When a guy is so dominant at blocking shots next to the rim, it allows for those other perimeter guys to guard the perimeter better. You add on top of that they had four guards in the game that have the quickness and mobility to get out to those shooters.
It just affects your aggressiveness when you know there is a dominant shot blocker in the game.”
Many more were altered, too.
And Felton said that led to some missed shots that normally would have been made.
That was definitely the case for Billy Humphrey, the visiting Dogs’ leading scorer.
He was just 1 of 8 from the floor and finished with five points, nine below his average.
Sundiata Gaines paced Georgia with 15 points and was the only UGA player in double-digits.
“Defensively, he changes things around that rim so much,” said MSU coach Rick Stansbury, whose team improved to 11-5, 2-0 after winning its sixth-consecutive game. “Nine points, nine rebounds and 10 blocks in 21 minutes is a very impressive stat.”
And it wasn’t as if State shot much better, either.
The Bulldogs, who host Kentucky at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, were 22 of 53. And after missing all 10 of their 3-pointers in the opening frame, they were 4 of 10 in the second half.
Two were provided by Phil Turner on consecutive trips down the court that swelled the lead to 37-28 to cap a 10-0 run ignited by 3-pointer from Ben Hansbrough with 16.17 to play.
“No question they are one of the best defensive teams in half court,” Stansbury said. “I didn’t want to get into a physical match with them. They really got into us and made it difficult for us.
“But our team found a way to do what it does best, and that’s defend.”
Jamont Gordon led MSU with 15 points, while Charles Rhodes returned for the first time since spraining his ankle three weeks ago to score eight points.
Georgia did win the battle of the boards, 44-41, with most of its 16 offensive rebounds the result of blocked shots.
“We just executed down the stretch,” Gordon said. “We knew it was going to be a physical game, so we just kept executing and tried to be the tough team on the floor.”
Rhodes plays, then re-injures ankle
– STARKVILLE – Rick Stansbury didn’t know if Charles Rhodes would be able to play until he walked over to him with 12:40 left in the first half and asked if he could go.
The senior forward, who sprained his left ankle three weeks ago, said he could.
Not only did he play, he was productive, too.
In MSU’s 60-49 victory against Georgia, he scored eight points, grabbed three rebounds, had one steal, and blocked two shots in 12 minutes of action.
“Getting him out there and not having anyone scoring on him every trip is positive.” Stansbury said. “He was very good for a guy that basically hasn’t done anything for three weeks.”
But with 7:44 to play, he landed funny on the ankle and didn’t return.
Stansbury said the ankle will be evaluated tomorrow to determine the damage.
Varnado, Hansbrough hurt too
– Also in the second half, Jarvis Varnado twisted his right ankle and missed about 10 minutes.
“The trainers just re-taped it, and I was ready to go,” he said.
Early in the game, Ben Hansbrough broke the middle finger on his left hand. He’ll have X-rays done today to determine how bad the break is.
“It happened about three minutes in,” said the sophomore guard, who scored six points and played 36 minutes.
Player of the game
– Once again, Varnado’s play was key. He finished with 10 blocked shots, nine points and nine rebounds.
– “We had to show a lot of poise. They were pressuring us a lot and switching defenses, but we just had to slow down, recognize their game and rotate the ball and take good shots.” – MSU junior guard Jamont Gordon.
– Mississippi State returns to the Hump on Tuesday to face Kentucky. Tipoff is slated for 8 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN.