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MSU Men’s Hoops Battles Past North Texas, 69-63

STARKVILLE – Mississippi State men’s basketball team used a balanced offensive attack with four players in double figures and committed a season-low 10 turnovers to capture a wire-to-wire 69-63 victory over North Texas last Friday at Humphrey Coliseum.

The Bulldogs (2-2) received an added boost from Iverson Molinar, who poured in 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting during his season debut. He grabbed five rebounds coupled with two assists and a steal over 29 minutes of action.

The win for Mississippi State pushed the Bulldogs to 39-4 in non-conference home games under Ben Howland. The victory also marked the 100th for Howland as MSU’s head coach.

D.J. Stewart and Tolu Smith secured double figures for the fourth consecutive game. Stewart Jr. provided a game-leading 16 points, while Smith garnered 12 points and eight rebounds.

Abdul Ado stuffed the stats sheet with six points, nine rebounds, five blocks and two steals. The nine rebounds enabled Ado to become the 22nd player in program history to surpass 600 career rebounds and surpass Joe Dan Gold (1961-62-63) into 22nd place on the program’s all-time list.

Ado has piled up five-plus blocks in six career games which is good enough for third place in program history only behind Jarvis Varnado (2007-08-09-10) and Erick Dampier (1994-95-96).

Mississippi State’s top bench performer, Jalen Johnson, pumped home a season’s best 10 points sparked by a 6-for-7 effort at the free throw line. It marked the 51st time during Johnson’s career that he has reached double figures and the first time in Maroon and White.

Cameron Matthews handed a team-leading three assists, whereas Deivon Smith and Quinten Post chipped in four points each.

For the game, MSU knocked down 26-of-54 from the field (48.1 percent), went 1-of-10 on three-pointers (10.0 percent) and hit on 16-of-22 at the free throw line (72.7 percent).

The Bulldogs had six assists versus 10 turnovers. State connected on 22 of its 26 shots from inside the paint and doubled up North Texas by a 44-22 margin in paint points.

North Texas (2-2) shot 20-of-56 from the field (35.7 percent), 7-of-23 from beyond the three-point arc (30.4 percent) and dialed up a 16-of-20 clip at the foul line (80.0 percent). The Mean Green were led by Ruben Jones’ 14 points off the bench followed by Zachary Simmons’ 11 points and 12 rebounds.

FROM THE BENCH – COACH HOWLAND

“The bottom line is and what I told them is you can win a game going 1-for-10 from the three if you play really good defense. That’s the bottom line. Our defense was tremendous tonight. They shot a much higher percentage in the second half. In the first half, we held them to 26 percent. We should have, honestly, had a little better lead than what we had at halftime. There were a couple of key junctures there where they got long rebounds on their 1-for-12 three-point shooting in the first half. They shot it better for the three late in the game and really made a run at us. I was just proud of the way our guys hung in there and held on.”

“We’re working on it [shooting free throws] a lot, and we’ve spent a lot of time at it. That first game, we had a lot of first game jitters, against a really good team. It kind of snowballed for us, but we’ve worked a lot on it. We’re shooting a lot of foul shots. Tolu [Smith] came in this morning and shot 100 [shots]. I have to get Tolu out of the gym. Today, he came in on his own and shot for an hour. I’m saying, ‘Tolu, we’re going to go an hour in the shootaround. Then, you’re going to come and warm up for the game. You’re going to be three hours in before the game even starts.’ He just loves it, and he’s just so anxious to do good.”

FROM THE LOCKER ROOM – JALEN JOHNSON

“It’s going great. There’s a lot of great guys here at Mississippi State. They brought me in and made me really feel like home here. The coaching staff is great. Everything is going really well here. I am here to contribute whatever I can and shooting is one of my strengths for sure. That is a premium on what I do, but I just try to help our team win defensively, mostly offensively, doing the little things and hustle plays.”

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

Iverson Molinar tallied five of Mississippi State’s seven points as the Bulldogs raced out to a 7-0 advantage within the first 2:44 of the contest, one that State would maintain for the entire game.

North Texas threatened with eight of the next 10 points to come within one, 9-8, at the 12:39 mark. However, the Bulldogs exploded for the next 11 points over the next 4:34 to fired out to a 20-8 lead with 8:05 remaining.

Mississippi State canned five of its seven shots and forced the Mean Green into seven straight field goal misses during the spurt. D.J. Stewart Jr. and Iverson Molinar bookended the run with transition layups.

The Maroon and White grabbed their largest lead of the game, 26-13, on a Tolu Smith dunk courtesy of Cameron Matthews. State would take a 29-20 edge at the break.

Out of the locker room, UNT garnered 13 of the opening 21 points of the second half to cut State’s advantage down to four, 37-33, following two Javion Hamlet free throws with 15:57 to go.

Ahead 40-35 at the 14:45 mark, Mississippi State received a pair of key offensive rebound putbacks from Abdul Ado and Javian Davis. Molinar knocked down a runner in transition, and Ado crashed the glass for another second-chance bucket to balloon State’s advantage back to double digits, 48-38, with 11:32 left.

Up 62-52 with 4:31 on the clock, the Mean Green made one final push behind Rubin Jones. He drained a pair of three’s 72 seconds apart to make it 66-60 with 2:43 to go.

Down the stretch, Stewart Jr. sank a pair of critical 1-and-1’s at the charity stripe, and Tolu Smith hit a late shot clock bucket to allow State to close out the six-point triumph, 69-63.

UP NEXT

Mississippi State is slated to play the final leg of its three-game homestand versus Jackson State on Tuesday. Tip time is set for 8 p.m. CT televised by SEC Network and available online courtesy of the Watch ESPN app.

Visit www.HailState.com for the latest news and information on the men’s basketball program. Fans also can follow the program on its social media outlets by searching ‘HailStateMBK’ on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.