MSU moves on in NIT

Published 10:36 pm Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mississippi State guard Jamont Gordon walked off the court with just a few ticks left on the game clock — his team held an insurmountable advantage. With his arms raised, he pointed to the crowd — his index finger extended, signaling No. 1. His coach patted him on the back. The two embraced for a split second.

“I didn’t think they could keep Jamont out of the lane all day,” Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said.

The sophomore had his sixth double-double of the season Saturday to lead Mississippi State to a 101-72 victory over Bradley in the second round of the National Invitational Tournament.

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Gordon had 20 points and 10 assists in the game, and scored MSU’s first eight points in the opening half. The Bulldogs hit five of their first seven 3-pointers.

Junior forward Charles Rhodes added 17 points and six blocks for Mississippi State. Reginald Delk had 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, and guards Dietric Slater and Barry Stewart also chipped in 13.

The win moves the Bulldogs into the quarterfinal round of the NIT, where they will host Florida State Tuesday night.

After establishing a dangerous perimeter game with seven first-half 3-pointers, Mississippi State was able to pound the Braves inside and take advantage of its size advantage.

The Bulldogs (20-13) scored 50 points in the paint while out-rebounding Bradley 51-32 and limiting the Braves’ high-powered offense to just 37 percent shooting.

“We knew they were like the worst rebounding team in their conference,” Bulldog forward Charles Rhodes said. “So we knew we had to be ready to grab the rebound every time a shot went up. When they did get second-chance shots they were knocking them down, so we knew we couldn’t let them get too many.”

The Braves who lead the nation in 3-point field goal percentage were 9-of-30 from behind the arc.

“I thought fatigue got into their legs a little bit,” Stansbury said. “They are going to get up and down the floor and shoot it. But we like to play that way too.”

The trio of Stewart and fellow freshmen Ben Hansbrough and Jarvis Varnado provided a spark for the Bulldogs off the bench in the first half. Varnado pulled down 11 rebounds in the first half alone.

After halftime, MSU went on a 23-2 run to eventually put the game out of reach.

“I would hate to see if they could play better,” Bradley coach Jim Les said. “Every time we made a run they had an answer. They just wore us down. That might be the best team that we have played all year in terms of just all-around athleticism, size, depth and skill.

Bradley (22-13) was led by senior guard Will Franklin, who had 15 points on 4-of-13 shooting.

The Braves finished the season with 22 wins for the second straight year for the first time since the 1959 and 1960 seasons.

The win extends MSU’s school-record number of home wins to 15, and sets up an NIT quarterfinal matchup with the Seminoles Tuesday. The winner goes to New York City for the NIT Final Four.

“FSU will be the most talented basketball team we’ve played all season long, except maybe Florida, and they beat Florida,” Stansbury said. “They’re going to play nine or 10 people and we’re going to have to play exceptionally well Tuesday to win that game.”