State falls to Missouri 83-75

Published 8:36 pm Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Mike Anderson’s defense-first system is making a believer of Stefhon Hannah.

The junior college transfer, in his first year with the Tigers, added five steals to his NCAA-leading average Tuesday as Missouri beat Mississippi State 83-75. He also scored a career-high 27 points to go with five rebounds and five assists for the Tigers (11-2).

“He’s tailor-made for what we do,” said Anderson, who collected his 100th career win. “Basketball is an instinctive game. He’s like a magnet around the ball.”

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Hannah, who entered the contest averaging 3.9 steals a game, has had at least five steals in a game for the fifth time this season.

The biggest of those thefts came with under 2 minutes remaining, with Hannah punctuating the defensive play with a length-of-the-court drive and a floating 10-footer to stretch Missouri’s lead to 81-70.

He followed that basket with yet another floater — his fourth such high-arcing shot of the game — to stretch Missouri’s lead to 13 points.

“The key to their team was Hannah,” said Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury. “It’s choose your poison with him. He’s an exceptional guard, and he was awful good tonight.”

Matt Lawrence added 17 points, including five 3-pointers, for Missouri, which is off to its best start since 1998-99, the final year of Norm Stewart’s long reign as coach.

Reginald Delk led the Bulldogs (9-4) with 16 points, Jamont Gordon had 15 points and Barry Stewart added 11.

While Missouri never trailed in the second half, the teams traded the lead six times in the first half.

Missouri bolted to a 13-0 lead behind three 3-point baskets from Lawrence before Mississippi State responded with an 18-2 run.

Mississippi State’s lead grew to 37-27 before Missouri — fueled by Hannah’s first pair of running floaters high off the backboard — went on a 16-0 run over the final five minutes of the half.

Missouri went into the locker room leading 43-37 on a Kalen Grimes’ tip-in of a Hannah miss as the first-half clock expired.

For the game, Missouri outrebounded the Bulldogs 42-32.

“That’s about toughness,” Stansbury said. “We’re not playing with the same toughness we had before the (winter) break.”

Mississippi State freshman guard Ben Hansbrough, a Poplar Bluff native, scored eight points and had eight assists, but also struggled at times against Hannah’s pressure defense.

Hansbrough returned to a Mizzou Arena court where he won the second of two state championships with his older brother Tyler, now a North Carolina star.

As Missouri prepares to open its Big 12 season Saturday at home against Iowa State, the Tigers already are just one victory shy of last season’s win total.

But Anderson — who told his team and Missouri fans before the season that he wants to compete for a national championship from the outset — said it was too early to start talking about a possible NCAA tournament berth.

“We can’t look way down the road,” he said. “This team here is one game at a time, one practice at a time.”

Mississippi State begins Southeastern Conference play Sunday against No. 19 Tennessee.