Mississippi State’s great start wasn’t fooling one person: coach Rick Stansbury.
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The Bulldogs hit 10 of their first 13 shots from the field to take a 22-point lead, then hung on for a 69-60 victory over No. 19 Texas A&M on Thursday night in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.
”That was a little bit of fool’s gold, making five threes like that,” Stansbury said. ”Texas A&M is a good basketball team, and I knew we weren’t going to maintain that kind of shooting, but I did like our defense. We were pushing them out and we controlled the flow at both ends.”
The Bulldogs (3-1) will play the winner of the game between No. 15 Arizona and St. John’s in Friday night’s championship game at Madison Square Garden.
Dee Bost had 20 points for Mississippi State and although the senior guard didn’t score in the big run in the first half, he hit a big three-pointer with 3:16 to play.
”Dee Bost was hard for us to contain,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. ”He’s not just a good player, he’s a good four-year player.”
Naji Hibbert’s drive with 3:37 to play brought Texas A&M (2-1) within 60-52. Bost hit the three-pointer 19 seconds later that started the Bulldogs’ 9-4 run that got them back in control of the game.
Brian Bryant had 12 points for the Bulldogs and freshman Rodney Hood added 10, his third double-figure effort in as many games.
Elston Turner had 13 points for Texas A&M and David Loubeau added 11.
Mississippi State used a 15-0 run to take a 31-9 lead with 10:11 left in the first half. They couldn’t keep up the torrid shooting, though, and the Aggies were able to close within single digits twice in the first half, the last time on a drive by Turner with 29 seconds left that made it 41-32.
The Bulldogs finished the half 12 for 24, including 5 of 8 from three-point range. The Aggies, after starting 3 of 14 from the field, shot 42.9 percent for the half (12 of 28).
”It was tough because we knew what they wanted to do in shooting threes,” Texas A&M guard Dash Harris said. ”We gave up too many open looks at the beginning, dug ourselves a hole and we couldn’t come back.”
The Bulldogs opened the second half on a 7-0 run to go up 48-32.
Texas A&M was able to get within eight points, but Bost started the deciding run with his second three of the game and the Aggies’ only one of the second half.
Texas A&M was without junior forward Khris Middleton. The preseason All-Big 12 selection had surgery on his right knee Nov. 11 and is expected to miss three to four weeks.
”Khris is an all-conference player and we need him, but defensively that’s no excuse for how we played,” Harris said. ”Defense is team-oriented. We miss Khris and we can’t wait to get him back. When he comes back you’ll see a different team. This isn’t how we play.”
This was the second game on the Aggies bench for Kennedy, who was diagnosed with early stage Parkinson’s disease. Kennedy, hired in May, is now 0-6 against Mississippi State at four different schools: Texas A&M, Southeastern Louisiana, Murray State and Centenary.
Next season this will be a Southeastern Conference game as Texas A&M moves from the Big 12 to the SEC.
”That was a good welcome for them,” Bost said of the future conference opponent. ”Give them credit, they’re a good team. They all compete.”