MSU Men’s Hoops Romps to 78-63 Win over No. 13 Missouri
Published 7:00 am Thursday, January 7, 2021
STARKVILLE – Down 14 points early in the second half, Iverson Molinar and D.J. Stewart Jr. put the Mississippi State men’s basketball team on its back and carried the Bulldogs to a spirited 78-63 comeback victory over Missouri on Tuesday night at Humphrey Coliseum.
The sophomore guards amassed 36 of the team’s 51 second-half points on a collective 14-of-20 shooting performance. At one point during the second half, the Molinar-Stewart Jr. combo racked up 24 consecutive points for the Bulldogs.
The 15-point victory was the fifth-largest margin of victory for Mississippi State (7-4, 2-1 SEC) over a ranked opponent and the second-best margin of victory over a top 15 team in program history. It also marked the program’s first triumph over a top 15 foe since the Bulldogs toppled No. 15 Arizona, 67-57, on Nov. 18, 2011 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
State has defeated a top 25 opponent during three of the last four seasons under head coach Ben Howland. The last win over a ranked foe was a 92-84 decision against No. 16 Auburn on Jan. 26, 2019.
Mississippi State did the heavy lifting during the second 20 minutes and exploded for 51 second-half points on scorching 19-of-28 shooting effort. The 12-point halftime comeback matched the highest in the Howland era. The Bulldogs also defeated Tennessee after trailing by 12 at the half on Nov. 4, 2017.
Stewart Jr. ripped off 13 straight MSU points on six basketball over a 5:16 span during the second half. The Grace, Mississippi, native extended his run to 11 consecutive games in double figures and eclipsed the 20-point plateau for the fourth occasion in 2020-21 and for the fifth time in his career.
Stewart Jr. knocked down 10-of-14 from the field and hit on eight of his 10 shots during the second half. He dished out four assists coupled with three rebounds and three steals.
Molinar piled up 20 points of his own and handed out two assists. He also posted his fourth 20-plus point outing this season and garnered his fifth career game of 20 or more points.
It marked the second time that Molinar and Stewart Jr. each had over 20 points during the same game. The pair outscored Missouri by themselves, 36-24, and have reached double figures in their first eight appearances together this season. The duo joined Stewart Jr. and Tolu Smith with eight straight games in double figures during their first eight appearances of the season. They are the ninth set of teammates to accomplish the feat dating back to 1958-59.
Tolu Smith was one rebound shy of his SEC-leading fifth-career double-double as he worked his way to 15 points and nine rebounds. He was an efficient 5-of-7 shooting and sank 5-of-6 at the charity stripe.
Abdul Ado and Deivon Smith tallied six points apiece. Ado grabbed seven rebounds and registered three blocks, while Smith compiled four boards, three assists and two steals.
Cameron Matthews and Jalen Johnson rounded out the scoring for the Bulldogs with four and three points, respectively.
For the contest, MSU buried 28-of-54 shots from the field (51.9 percent), 3-of-6 attempts from triple territory (50.0 percent) and 19-of-21 shots from the foul line (90.5 percent). The 90.5 free throw percentage marks third-highest against an SEC opponent under Howland.
State held a 37-22 rebounding advantage and outrebounded its opponent for the 10th time in its first 11 games. Mississippi State turned 10 offensive rebounds into a 17 of the game’s 21 points on second-chance opportunities.
The Bulldogs had 11 assists against 11 turnovers, while the Tigers secured 15 assists and committed only eight turnovers.
Missouri countered with a 26-of-58 shooting effort overall (44.8 percent), 5-of-18 on three-pointers (27.8 percent) and a perfect 6-of-6 at the charity stripe.
The Tigers had three players in double figures. Jeremiah Tilmon managed 16 points and six rebounds. A key point in the contest was when Tilmon picked up his fourth foul with 8:17 left. Xavier Pinson notched 13 points and eight assists for Missouri.
FROM THE BENCH WITH COACH HOWLAND
“I wish I could take credit for it, but I thought we had great leadership within the team. I thought Abdul [Ado], D.J. [Stewart Jr.], Iverson [Molinar], and Tolu [Smith] all stepped up and really played with great passion and fire. We were so much better in the second half defensively. They only shot 38 percent from the field in the second half. We only turned it over three times in the second half. We really won the battle of the boards in the second half, a really phenomenal job.”
“I thought Deivon gave us a huge lift off the bench. We had those three [Stewart Jr., Molinar and Smith] all in together, and I thought that really opened up the floor for us. They were really pressuring us, and we were bothered by it in the first half. Having three point guards in there at the same time really opened up things for us offensively. It also made us better defensively.”
“We did a really good job defensively in the second half. [Jeremiah] Tilmon is a load, and we were fortunate that we were going at him. He got in foul trouble, and it helped us. [Xavier] Pinson runs their team incredibly well. This is a really good team that we defeated, they are top 10 in the NET [rankings] and 13th in the country [in the polls]. They’re definitely an NCAA Tournament team. So, this is a huge shot in the arm for our guys and for their confidence level.”
“I thought they really showed a lot of moxie and character to bounce back, especially when we were struggling early. They had us down 12 points at the half and 14 points [early in the second half]. We talked about how important it was to come out and play with great passion and energy. To play together out there and to stay positive, I thought my assistant coaches did a phenomenal job. I thought the bench was phenomenal for the players by really encouraging them at all times. It’s just so fun because it’s such a team thing. We have such a great family atmosphere within this program. The family atmosphere for this year’s team has been tremendous and really fun. If you ask the players, I think they would echo that.”
FROM THE LOCKER ROOM – ABDUL ADO
“This means a lot. Somebody was telling me that this is one of the biggest wins I’ve had since I’ve been here against a ranked team. One thing I’ve learned is we [Mississippi State] are very underrated, no matter what we do. No matter the progress we’ve made, we just don’t get the credit we deserve. That’s how I see it. Since I’ve been here, we always have had to prove people wrong. It’s nothing new to us. We love that we just get to prove people wrong. We get to show people how much we have worked. We have shed blood and tears for this. They can put us as the 12 [place team in the SEC preseason poll]. It doesn’t matter, it’s how we respond. We take it personally. We are going to come out here and take care of business every day.”
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Trailing 43-29 with 18:28 left, Iverson Molinar and D.J. Stewart Jr. went to work for the Bulldogs. The duo fired off the next 24 Mississippi State points.
A Stewart Jr. steal and layup followed by a Molinar right wing three-pointer brought the Bulldogs back within single digits, 43-36, with 16:04 to go.
Stewart Jr. found the zone and showcased his midrange jumper. He put Mississippi State on his back with 13 consecutive points. A driving layup and an-one off a 15-footer from the left elbow gave vaulted the Bulldogs ahead 51-50 at the 9:23 mark.
State kept pushing forward as Deivon Smith provided a pair of key plays. He finished a left-handed layup in traffic and connected with Cameron Matthews for a two-handed dunk to make it 64-54 with 4:44 on the clock.
The Bulldogs closed out the 15-point triumph and hit on 5-of-6 at the foul line inside the last 1:21.
Out of the gates, Mississippi State connected on four of its first five shots to build an 11-6 advantage during the first 3:22 of the contest.
Tolu Smith started the scoring with a layup. Then, he found D.J. Stewart Jr. for a highlight reel alley-opp. Jalen Johnson tacked on a right corner trey courtesy of Stewart Jr. in transition, and Stewart Jr. hit a midrange jumper from the left elbow for the five-point edge.
Missouri put the clamps on the Bulldogs and scored 24 of the next 29 points over the next 10:45 to turn a five-point deficit into a 14-point lead. The Tigers tallied 12 unanswered points fueled by five consecutive baskets in the paint to go up 30-16 with 5:49 left.
Missouri maintained its double-digit point spread and took 39-27 heading into the locker room.
Mississippi State returns briefly to the road with a trip to Vanderbilt on Saturday. Tip time is scheduled for 12 p.m. CT from Memorial Gym televised by the SEC Network and available online courtesy of the Watch ESPN app.
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