THE BULLDOGS, LED BY RESERVES WHIT HUGHES AND BART HYCHE, RALLY PAST LSU 88-67
By Gene Phelps
STARKVILLE A starter who didn’t want to spend the second half sitting on the bench and two hustling reserves directed Mississippi State to its 88-77 comeback win Wednesday over LSU.
The bench-warming starter was forward Dontae’ Jones, who spent 12 minutes of the first half riding the pine after being yanked by MSU coach Richard Williams for poor defensive play and poor shot selection.
Challenged by Williams at halftime to pick up his defensive play, Jones responded by scoring 20 second-half points.
“I didn’t play like I should have in the first half,” said Jones, who was 7-of-10 from the field in the final half. “Coach (Williams) sat me down. He told me at halftime that I would control my own destiny. I took it on myself to play with more effort in the second half.”
Jones scored State’s first four points of the second half as the Bulldogs pulled to a 37-37 tie. His jumper with 13:39 remaining gave the Bulldogs the lead for keeps, 47-46.
“There’s no question he (Jones) played well in the second half,” Williams said. “I’d like to see him have two halves like that.”
The reserves, freshman guard Bart Hyche and forward Whit Hughes, entered the game in the second half and gave the Bulldogs a lift with their hustle.
“Bart Hyche and Whit Hughes completely changed the complexion of the game with hustle plays and all-out effort,” Williams said. “Our players recognized the effort those two guys were playing with and picked their games up.”
Hyche finished with nine points and five assists while Hughes added eight points and four assists. Jones led State with 21 points and had eight rebounds. Darryl Wilson added 19 and center Erick Dampier had 16 points and nine rebounds.
“I like I had one of my best games,” said Hyche, who repeatedly pushed the ball up the court. “I thought I could do some things to help the team when I got in there.”
For LSU, Roman Rubchenko scored 18, Gene Nabors 14 and Landers Nolley 13.
State’s win upped its record to 17-6 overall, but more importantly, the Bulldogs moved into a first-place tie in the SEC’s Western Division with Arkansas. Both teams have 8-5 division records after the Razorbacks’ loss to Tennessee.
LSU lost its fifth straight game and saw its record dip to 11-14 overall and to 3-10 in the division.
The Tigers played a strong first half and built a big lead early. A 3-pointer by Rubchenko and a jumper by Nolley with 8:12 left in the half gave LSU its biggest lead, 27-16.
But the Bulldogs rallied in the final 6 1/2 minutes, outscoring the Tigers 14-6 to cut LSU’s margin at halftime to 35-33. Mississippi State scored the final six points of the half, the last two coming on a driving layup by Marcus Bullard.
The Tigers suffered a big blow in the first half when starting guard Deuce Ford went out at the 7:03 mark with an injured right knee. The first report was that he might have suffered a torn ligament.