By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State senior guard Barry Stewart is on the verge of becoming the school’s all-time leader in minutes played, needing just 10 more to break Jeff Malone’s mark of 3,851.
But right now, fewer minutes would be welcome for Stewart and the rest of the Bulldog starters.
In four SEC games, Stewart, point guard Dee Bost and center Jarvis Varnado are each averaging more than 36 minutes per game. That, coach Rick Stansbury said Monday, simply must change.
Because Twany Beckham is out for the season with injury, Bost’s backup is Stewart. But by the time Stewart assumes those duties during a game, he’s already worn down.
As for Varnado, his backups are freshmen Wendell Lewis and John Riek, neither of whom are ready for the grind of the SEC. Stansbury’s only possible solutions there are to play those freshmen more often, slide forward Kodi Augustus to the five for a few minutes, or hope super-frosh Renardo Sidney gets cleared by the NCAA soon.
“I’ve got to find a way to rest Jarvis,” said Stansbury, whose team is 15-4 overall, 3-1 in SEC play heading into Thursday’s game at Arkansas (8 p.m., ESPN2).
“It affects the team (by) Jarvis playing the way he’s playing, because he’s tired.”
Until the bench gets deeper, adequate rest might not come for Varnado or anyone else.
– In its last two games – a 72-69 win against Georgia and a 62-57 loss at Alabama – MSU has started off rather slowly. It fell behind by eight early against the Bulldogs and then had to erase two double-digit deficits in the second half; against the Crimson Tide, State was down 12-2 in just over two minutes’ time.
“I think we didn’t come out as the aggressor a lot of times,” Stewart said. “Like this past game we got down so early, it was 12-2 before we even knew it. I think we didn’t come out with a take-it-to-them mentality.”
That was a problem early in the season, but it seemed to be remedied after the Bulldogs’ first two SEC games. Against Ole Miss, they raced to a 20-8 lead en route to an 80-75 victory; against Arkansas, a 37-18 lead held up in an 82-80 win.
“I really don’t know how to comment on that, because it’s not really just one specific thing that you can say to do, besides go out there and throw the first punch,” junior Phil Turner said. “I’m not too sure how to go out there and throw the first punch. I kind of play my game based on how the opponent is playing me.
“That’s kind of a tough route to go. I know that’s not good, but that sometimes is just the nature of the beast.”
Shoot it, kid
– Junior guard Riley Benock has been one of the main three subs for Stansbury this year, and he played a big role last season, too. Problem is, he’s not showing up much in the box score.
A 39.3 percent career 3-point shooter entering this season, the 6-foot-4 Benock is 10 of 26 this season (38.5 percent). He’s only attempted one 3-pointer and scored no points in SEC play.
He’s averaging 1.8 points on the season; he averaged 2.3 last year.
“All I know is, we tell him every day, shoot. Shoot, shoot, shoot,” Stansbury said. “We need Riley to give us more minutes there so I can rest Dee more, so I can rest Barry more. Riley gives you some other things – he’s smart defensively, he’ll make good decisions.
“But he’s a guy that you want him to come in, and when you’re open, take a shot.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.