By Paul Jones/Special to the Journal
STARKVILLE – With exactly 4:28 left in the second half, Mississippi State’s Jarvis Varnado made good on a promise Wednesday night. With that promise, Varnado also made NCAA history in the Bulldogs’ 74-66 victory over Alabama in front of 8,466 fans at Humphrey Coliseum.
In blocking Alabama’s Mikhail Torrance, Varnado recorded his 536th career blocked shot to establish a new NCAA record. With eight blocks on the night, the senior center moved past his final obstacle – former record-holder Wojciech Mydra, who played for Louisiana-Monroe in 1999-2002.
Earlier in the week, Varnado had told reporters he hoped to set the record in front of the home crowd.
As far as the game was concerned, Varnado’s play also helped the Bulldogs (20-8, 8-5) capture a crucial SEC victory. Varnado had 17 points and 10 boards along with his eight ‘swats’. Varnado had just two blocks in the first half but blocked five in the first 11 minutes of the second half to tie the record.
“I saw Torrance going to the hole and trying to get off that floater,” said Varnado. “I just went to get it.
“I just got on a hot spell like shooters get on hot streaks. I kept telling myself ‘give me more, give me more.’ ”
MSU’s Barry Stewart also got involved in the record-setting business of his own. With his lone three-pointer of the game, Stewart knocked down his 259th career 3-pointer for a school record in that category.
After the win, MSU official held a ceremony for Varnado and Stewart. The Bulldog players and coaches sported shirts reading “The Kings of Swat” on the front and back.
During the event, even the humble and shy Varnado was filled with emotions over his accomplishment and the recognition he received along his journey to history.
“That was great,” said Varnado. “For the four years I’ve been here, the fans and people around town have been so good to me. It’s been a blessing.”
Alone in first place
Dee Bost had a team-high 22 points to lead the Bulldogs, who now sit in first place alone in the West thanks to LSU’s win over Arkansas. Ravern Johnson had 12 points and Kodi Augustus added 11 for the hosts.
The Bulldogs boosted their NCAA tournament hopes with the victory – and that made Varnado’s feat even sweeter.
“It’s a special night,” said MSU head coach Rick Stansbury, who collected his ninth 20-win season in his 12 years at MSU. “That’s an unselfish act – blocking shots. Jarvis didn’t put himself in too many bad positions tonight where he tried to hard and gave up baskets.
“It’s amazing to remember how he started out here. He came here at 180 pounds and played seven or eight minutes as a freshman and would foul out.”
Thanks to Torrance, the visiting Tide matched MSU nearly shot for shot in the opening 20 minutes. With JaMychal Green in early foul trouble – two fouls in three minutes – Torrance made 6 of 7 shots, including a trio of 3-pointers, and had 15 first-half points.
Torrance finished with 23 points while Senario Hillman had 13 to pace Alabama, who fell to 14-13 and 4-9 in the SEC.
The first half featured eight lead changes as MSU held a 31-29 halftime advantage. But the Bulldogs grabbed early control in the second half and extended its lead to 54-43 on Stewart’s record-setting 3-pointer with 9:24 left in the game.
“To come in here at the same time and us both break records, I’m speechless,” said Stewart. “It’s an amazing thing.”
Alabama managed to slice the lead to 61-59 with 3:49 left in regulation. But Bost hit three-pointers on back-to-back possessions and the Tide never recovered.
“A team can blow a lead just like they get a lead,” said Stewart. “We had to bow up and we had to be the aggressor at that point.”