OXFORD – It was not the time for Dee Bost to be down on himself, or to be going less than full speed. Because the No. 14-ranked Ole Miss Rebels would have happily feasted on his wounded ego.
So Rick Stansbury pulled his sophomore point guard aside a few days ago and delivered a blunt message, essentially this: Stop pouting, and play like I know you can.
The effectiveness of Stansbury’s words were tested Saturday at Tad Smith Coliseum, when Bost had four turnovers to his credit by halftime and Mississippi State trailed Ole Miss, 42-37.
Then the second half began, and it was soon clear that the coach had gotten through to his player. Bost scored 17 of his game-high 25 points – which tied a career high – after halftime, relentlessly attacking the Rebels’ defense as he rallied MSU to an 80-75 win in both teams’ SEC opener.
Bost, who shot just two free throws in the first half, made 8 of 10 in the second half. He turned the ball over once.
It was a much different scene Monday at Western Kentucky, when Bost was largely ineffective until the final few minutes in a 55-52 loss.
“He told me the last game I played for six minutes, I didn’t play for 34 minutes,” Bost said when recalling his talk with Stansbury. “He said I should’ve stepped up the whole game. He told me I’ve got to stop pouting because I didn’t get my way.
“That’s what I’ve got to mature at and play my game.”
Bost, who took over the point as soon as he arrived in Starkville last season, was in the middle of all Saturday’s big moments.
– He made six consecutive free throws and then hit a layup to cut a nine-point Ole Miss lead to three points by the midway point of the second half.
– His layup with 8 minutes, 16 seconds left gave State its first lead, 61-59, since the 6:02 mark of the first half.
– His 3-pointer with 6:35 to go gave MSU a 66-65 edge, a lead the Bulldogs would not relinquish.
– With 25 seconds left and MSU clinging to a 77-73 lead, Bost slapped the ball away from a driving Chris Warren. The Rebels got the ball back but missed a 3-pointer.
“Dee grew up this game,” said shooting guard Barry Stewart. “Not just because he was scoring, the way he was controlling the flow, controlled the game better than he has.
“… Coach has been on him, and he did a great job of not letting it dictate his emotions. I know a lot of times he gets upset every once in a while, but I didn’t see that tonight.”
Stewart is one of two seniors for MSU – center Jarvis Varnado is the other – but when the Bulldogs needed a spark after a turnover-filled first half, Bost was the guy. Stansbury dismissed the notion that this is Bost’s team – “It’s everybody’s team,” he said – but he did tell Bost at halftime he needed to finish at the rim instead of looking to pass so much.
And Bost felt a responsibility to put the onus on himself.
“I think that we were flat for a while,” said Bost, who had six assists. “I had to try to put the team on my back so I could change the game. I did that, and then I started finding Ray (Johnson) and other people when they were wide open.”
Bost logged 37 minutes Saturday. He shot 7 of 13 from the floor, including 2 of 5 from 3-point range, and made 9 of 12 free throws.
Nice numbers, but not as important as heeding Stansbury’s words.
“Coach was on him this week about getting in that lane and getting to the line,” Varnado said. “He did a great job, tremendous job of doing that, and just running the team.”
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal