By Paul Jones/Special to the Journal
STARKVILLE – On Sunday afternoon, Mississippi State encountered a great disappointment. The Bulldogs missed out on a SEC Tournament title and the NCAA Tournament in a matter of hours.
Those thoughts still lingered at Humphrey Coliseum on Tuesday night, but fortunately for the Bulldogs, their disappointment lasted only one half.
In the opening round of the NIT, Mississippi State (24-11) shook off a sluggish first half and defeated Jackson State 81-67 in front of 4,433 fans.
The Bulldogs advanced to the second round and will host the defending national champions, North Carolina (17-16), on Saturday at 11 a.m. on ESPN.
“After where we were after Sunday night, we had nothing left in us but did manage to recover some tonight,” said MSU head coach Rick Stansbury. “Considering it was our fourth game in five days, I was proud of the way our guys came out and played. We obviously could have laid an egg tonight and had every excuse to do that. But it was what I expected because we have high-character kids. It would have been easy for them to lay that egg but they didn’t do that.”
Jarvis Varnado paced MSU with 21 points and 11 boards, including eight offensive rebounds, to record his 18th double-double of the season.
“I know it wasn’t easy on Mississippi State coming back from a devastating loss on Sunday,” said Jackson State head coach Tevester Anderson. “They should be playing in the NCAA Tournament and competing for that national title. I think they have a pretty good chance at winning the NIT championship.”
Leading just 38-33 with 14:48 left in the game, the Bulldogs sprinted on a 24-9 run to put the game away. Jackson State ’s Phillip Williams was ejected for throwing a punch at MSU’s Dee Bost. While leaving the floor, Williams was also hit with a technical foul.
The punch “kinda woke me up,” said Bost. “I was playing hard but it made me realize I had to step my offense up. In the beginning I was just trying to pass the ball and get everybody else involved.”
Bost knocked down all four throw attempts and then connected on a three-pointer, scoring seven points in a 22-second stretch.
“No question it got Bost going,” said Stansbury of the flagrant foul. “I can’t say what I told Bost but no question it got him going.”
In the opening half, MSU sprinted to a 16-6 advantage in the game’s opening five and half minutes. The visiting Tigers (19-13) managed to cut the deficit to five points on four occasions in the opening half.
However, MSU closed the first half on a 7-2 run to hold a 32-23 lead at the break. The Bulldogs shot just 37 percent in the opening half, and missed 13 of their 17 attempts beyond the arc.
But the Tigers were just as cold at 36 percent in the first half, and also aided State’s lead with 10 first-half turnovers.
Bost finished with 18 points and six assists while Kodi Augustus added 13 points for the Bulldogs.
“You know North Carolina is my home state and used to be my dream school,” said Bost. “I never thought I would play them, so it’s going to be special to me.”
Garrison Johnson of Jackson State led all scorers with a career-high 32 points, highlighted by six three-pointers.
The Tigers are now 0-4 in games against the Bulldogs.