By MATTHEW STEVENS
Fourth verse, same as the first.
This time Mississippi State went to overtime with a team still seeking its first win over a Division I opponent.
“We got no margin for error,” Bulldogs head coach Rick Stansbury said.
Once again senior guard Ravern Johnson led the Bulldogs (4-0) with another career-high effort of 33 points on seven makes from outside the three-point arc in a 92-83 overtime victory Friday night
“Right now I realize most of the scoring load in on me,” Johnson said, who came into the contest leading the Southeastern Conference in scoring. “That is something I’m glad to accept.”
Junior guard Brian Bryant led the overtime charge with an acrobatic layup to start the extra session. The junior college transfer ended the night with 15 points.
For the first time since the 1942-43 season, State has opened a season with four games decided by 10 points or less.
“I’ll take the positives from we fought back to get back in it and there’s a lot of times we could’ve quit in this game tonight,” Stansbury said.
Troy (1-4), who had lost by double digits at Alabama, Georgia State and Texas-San Antonio, controlled the tempo early that led to a 38-34 halftime lead.
The Trojans built a 63-52 lead with 9:21 left in the contest but State answered with five long range shots to produce a 15-3 rally to eventually take its first second-half lead late in the game.
“I thought when we got the lead Mississippi State made some big shots and ended up going to a smaller lineup to give them more scorers,” Troy head coach Don Maestri said.
Maestri was an assistant at State for the 1979-80 season under Jim Hatfield.
When State thought they’d battled back from a double-digit second half deficit, they’d secured its fourth straight victory at Humphrey Coliseum, Troy had other ideas.
With 2.4 seconds left in regulation and Troy inbounding the ball down three, Trojans senior guard Vernon Taylor caught the inbounds pass at halfcourt and banked in a three-point shot as the horn sounded to shock the 4,021 in the stands along with tying the game at 74.
“Believe it or not, it was,” Maestri said when asked if the full-court desperation play was executed the way it was drawn up in the timeout huddle. “Normally the coach says that that when it goes in but it’s the truth. I didn’t think he would get it off….and we didn’t play on banking it in but that was the guy we wanted to shoot it.”
Taylor, a 6-foot-3 guard who led the Trojans with 24 points, was a perimeter threat all evening for Troy by breaking down State’s guards to get layups but also connecting on four shots from beyond the three-point arc.
“They kept beating us with that dribble drive all night long,” Stansbury said. “They got into the lane way too many times and that’s just being ready defensively to guard. We weren’t.”
Troy was able to slow down the overall game tempo into a halfcourt, structured style of play that exploited MSU’s defensive shortcomings and miscommunication all evening long.
“That is something we do not want to get used to doing,” senior guard Riley Benock said. “We need to get out of that trend. We need to start putting teams away.”
Stansbury, who has now coached 23 of his last 26 games by less than double digits, said he suspected his team would be a bit sluggish during the pre-game warm-ups and the lack of energy carried over to the opening tip.
“When you’re not playing with any emotion, toughness and energy, you’re going to be fortunate to win any games,” Stansbury said. “That scoreboard don’t know or care that it’s Thanksgiving holiday, that’s for sure.”
Benock had all 12 of his points come from three-point shots as the Trojans sagging man-to-man defense was daring the team in white to make long-range shots.
Mississippi State tries to make five in a row to start the 2010-2011 season when they host Florida Atlantic Tuesday night.