In 120 seconds of crazy basketball at Humphrey Coliseum, Mississippi State went from having to explain a deflating upset home loss to a mid-major at home to storming the court after a bizarre comeback win
Down by nine points with 2 minutes to go, State guard Brian Bryant introduced himself the to shocked 5,794 fans in the stands to prevent another disappointing loss like last year’s season-opener against Rider.
“If you watched us play our first two games – we better take everybody seriously,” Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury said. “We’re trying to find ways to win right now and it’s not always going to win pretty.”
The junior college transfer forced a steal, sank three free throws after being fouled on a three-point attempt and created the energy for a 12-3 run that resulted in a dramatic 76-74 victory over an upset-minded Appalachian State squad.
“Once he made those free throws, even though we were still down one – I was convinced we would win the game,” senior guard Ravern Johnson said.
Bryant ended the game with seven points, five rebounds in 16 minutes.
“I was nervous after the first free throw but after I made it, I was fine,” Bryant said.
Appalachian State's Donald Sims, who finished the game with 40 points, missed the final attempt of the game at the buzzer that would’ve given the visitors the victory. The 6-foot-1 senior came off a ball screen but Mississippi State forward Kodi Augustus used his 7-inch height advantage to get a piece of the shot and as both players crashed to the floor, none of the three officials whistled for a foul.
“You wanted the ball in his hands, wanted him to make a play,” Mountaineers head coach Jason Capel said. “I think it says a lot about the culture at Appalachian State now. This game hurts because we know we should’ve won this game.”
After breaking down film on Appalachian State, Stansbury thought they had to slow it down and control the tempo along with guard the perimeter better. Turns out he needed a 94-foot press to turn certain defeat the favorite to win the Southern Conference.
Against an opponent that averaged 95 points per game in its first two contests and is picked to win the Southern Conference, Mississippi State blistered the nets in a first-half performance that saw them make half their field goal attempts.
Mississippi State (2-0) got star efforts from its senior leaders Augustus and Johnson as the duo combined for 45 points and six conversions from beyond the three-point arc.
Augustus was a force in the paint getting layups on post-up sets but also stepped back to make 3-for-6 on three-point shots.
“They jumped screens and I was just wide open,” Augustus said. “It wasn’t by plan but yeah I was making my shots and the first half was great for me.”
The problem for State heading into a three-game stretch in eight days is the fact that against a smaller opponent that fouled out its entire frontcourt 90 seconds before regulation ended, MSU ended the night with only two points in the paint.
“We don’t get nothing in the paint (because) Elgin (Bailey) can’t move and jump the way he wants to right now,” Stansbury said.
Appalachian State (2-1), who had opened its season with a win at Tulsa eight days ago, was completely out of sync early on offense as junior guard Omar Carter was hounded by the normally offensive-minded Johnson and the Mountaineers leading scoring at 27.5 points per game missed six of his first seven shots.
“I’ve never walked into the locker ever in his four years and really, really thought his ability to defend somebody was a key to a game,” Stansbury said. “Ravern’s ability to do that was a huge key. That’s a first for Ravern.”
Mississippi State has a quick turnaround when 2010 McDonald’s All-American guard Ray McCallum Jr. comes to Starkville Monday night when the Bulldogs host his father’s University of Detroit squad.