JACKSON – It may have been a 125-mile trip for the Mississippi State basketball team but Wednesday night served a much-anticipated debut and reintroduction.
Mississippi State’s 101-76 victory over NAIA Belhaven University featured the first action of the 2010-11 season for sophomore forward Renardo Sidney and junior guard Dee Bost.
Bost, the former all-Southeastern Conference selection, made his presence known at shooting guard with 26 points along with nine assists on 10-for-20 from the floor and 5-of-11 from beyond the three-point arc.
“As good as he was tonight, he wasn’t as sharp as he’s been in the past, but he’ll be able to play his way back easily for us,” Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury said.
The 6-foot-3 guard is being forced to sit after the offseason drama that included his failing to properly withdraw by May 8 NBA draft deadline and being declared academically ineligible but was allowed to play major minutes in Wednesday night’s exhibition after his teammates had logged four games in four days.
Bost will return for his first regular season game on Jan. 8 when the Bulldogs open SEC play at Humphrey Coliseum against Alabama. MSU officials confirmed Wednesday night that his fall semester grades were more than enough to get him academically eligible to play after he completes his suspension. Because of his suspension, the junior guard will not be able to travel with the MSU team to its games to The Bahamas, Hawaii and Las Vegas.
“I’ve got a schedule with running, lifting and getting in the gym while these guys are overseas,” Bost said.
Bost, who made the dean’s list in the fall of 2009, confirmed that news as well to the Starkville Daily News before Wednesday’s contest.
Late in the game, Stansbury gave Bost the point guard duty and the junior quickly contributed a pair of assists on fast break situations off defensive rebounds.
“I’ll probably play both spots (point and shooting guard) when I return but mostly more of the one-guard position,” Bost said.
The loudest cheer of the night occurred when Sidney, born and raised in Jackson, was announced first as one of the Bulldogs’ starting five. The former McDonald’s All-American had a roller coaster ride of a debut that included a two-handed dunk on his first basket, a dominating block but also a bad bout with leg cramps to end the night.
“I was cramping up bad and that’s probably due to being out of shape,” Sidney said. “I was excited at first but frustrated that I kept cramping up. When we get everybody back we’ll be unstoppable.”
Sidney got the announced crowd of 4,318 on its feet when he caught the ball near the right block with about 12 minutes left in the opening half, spun away from the double team toward the baseline and dunked it emphatically with two hands.
Sidney, who received a two-part penalty from the NCAA that included losing eligibility of the 2009-10 season due to unethical conduct and being forced to sit out an additional 30 percent (an estimated nine games) of this upcoming season due to receiving impermissible benefits, finished with 10 points, six rebounds, and a block along with three turnovers in 15 minutes of action.
“I thought I’d get 30 (points) and 20 (rebounds) tonight but I know it’ll get tougher from here on out,” Sidney said.
After sitting out Tuesday night’s win over Alabama State due to an academic class policy violation, Ravern Johnson led Mississippi State in scoring with 29 points in 30 minutes on 10-for-17 from the field and 6-of-11 from beyond the three-point arc.
“The hardest thing about the last five games is getting up early and do the scouting reports,” Johnson said. “We weren’t practicing so it was actually kind of fun.”
After a sluggish start, State broke the game open late in the first half when they completed a 13-0 run on the Blazers to give MSU not only a 48-38 halftime lead but all the momentum into the locker room.
Against inferior competition, State had its most impressive offensive performance of the season with four players in double figures and the Bulldogs squad eclipsing their season scoring average through nine regular season games by 29 points.
Belhaven guard Rob Wallace led all scorers with 31 points and dazzling MSU defenders for 21 of those in the first 20 minutes of play.
Wallace, who was the smallest player on the floor, finished the evening 11-of-24 from the field and 6-for-12 on three-pointers.
Mississippi State now begins its overseas portion of the schedule Saturday with a contest against Virginia Tech in The Bahamas. The Bulldogs will be without center John Riek after Stansbury confirmed the team had issues with his passport being cleared and the 7-foot-1 sophomore will rejoin the team in Hawaii for the Diamondhead Invitational from Dec. 22-25.