By Brad Locke / NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Riley Benock spent the first three years of his career coming off the bench for Mississippi State, so he’s wise in the ways of being an effective sub.
The Bulldogs’ current reserves have turned in undulating stat lines this season. In six SEC games, they’re averaging 9.3 points after averaging 17.4 in the non-conference schedule. In Saturday’s 71-64 win over Florida, MSU’s bench contributed zero points.
As Benock knows, there’s more to being a solid reserve than scoring.
“A big part of it when you come in is not necessarily scoring and stuff, but just kind of maintaining the flow of the game and doing whatever you can to add to,” the senior guard said Monday. “As long as you’re not taking away from your team in those limited minutes you have, then it’s not a bad thing.
“Your mindset can’t be to come in and try to be the leading scorer, to get up a bunch of shots, because that may not be your role right now, and you just kind of have to accept it.”
MSU’s bench doesn’t look the same as it did in December, when Elgin Bailey and Twany Beckham were still on the team – Bailey was a starter – and before point guard Dee Bost became eligible, and before big man Renardo Sidney stopped getting suspended.
So the bench has a different look. Brian Bryant hasn’t done much as Bost’s backup, but freshman Jalen Steele and sophomore Wendell Lewis have been effective even when not scoring.
“They’ve got to keep making us better, we’ve got to make them better,” Bost said. “They’ve got to come to play.”
• MSU (11-9, 3-3 SEC) travels to Western Division leader Alabama (13-7, 5-1) on Wednesday. It’s a rematch of Jan. 8, when the Crimson Tide won 75-57 in Starkville.
In that game, junior forward JaMychal Green scored 16 points for Alabama, knocking down several outside jumpers after he had trouble getting past Renardo Sidney on the blocks. Green’s outside touch caught the Bulldogs off guard at the time.
“He can make shots. That wasn’t no surprise, stepping out and making them,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “Probably stepping out and making as many as he did was surprising.”
MSU knows what to expect this time, although who knows if that’ll help. Green, a McDonald’s All-American in high school, is eighth in the league in scoring at 15.8 points per game, and his 7.5 rebounds is tied for ninth.
“He’s a load, and he’s kind of playing up now to what people anticipated,” Stansbury said.
Hitting big shots
• MSU has been clutch at the free throw line this season.
In the final three minutes of games, the Bulldogs have made 81 of 101 free throw attempts, or 80.2 percent. In Saturday’s 71-64 win over Florida, State was 7 of 8 at the stripe in the final three minutes.
“There’s not a weak spot in our starting five shooting free throws,” Stansbury said.
Senior forward Kodi Augustus is 27 of 31 in those late-game situations, Steele is 8 of 9, and both Bost and Benock are 6 of 7.
Augustus made 5 of 6 down the stretch against Florida
“A few games this year (Augustus) hit clutch free throws. It just carries over to everybody else,” Bost said.
• Only four players scored for MSU against Florida, the first time that has happened since Feb. 10, 1996. In a 76-71 win over Oklahoma, Darryl Wilson had 32 points, Dontae’ Jones had 19, Erick Dampier had 14, and Marcus Bullard had 11. … Instead of going over the night before, like normal, MSU will travel to Tuscaloosa on Wednesday. … In SEC games, Bost is tops in the league in assists with a 6.2 average. Second is Georgia’s Dustin Ware (4.4).
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.