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MSU Men’s Hoops Takes Down Georgia in SEC Opener, 83-73

ATHENS, Georgia – Iverson Molinar and Deivon Smith pumped home career-highs with 24 and 13 points, respectively, to spark the Mississippi State men’s basketball team to a wire-to-wire 83-73 victory over Georgia during Wednesday’s SEC opener for both teams.

The win enabled Mississippi State (6-3, 1-0 SEC) to put a couple of losing streaks in the rearview mirror. The Bulldogs won their first SEC opener since a 78-75 triumph over then No. 22 Arkansas (01/02/2018) and picked up a victory during their first conference road game since a 98-75 rout at LSU (01/07/2017).

Mississippi State won its fourth consecutive decision over Georgia (7-1, 0-1 SEC) and knocked the homestanding Bulldogs from the ranks of the unbeaten. The four-game run for State is its longest in the series going back to 2003-04 and 2005-06 seasons. It marked the first time that MSU has won consecutive road games in Athens since the 1973-74 and 1974-75 seasons.

Molinar fired in 16 of his career-high 24 points during the second half. He hit on 8-of-14 of his shot attempts and sank four three-pointers. He also tacked on three assists and three rebounds over his 26 minutes of action.

D.J. Stewart Jr. dialed up 18 points, coupled with a season’s best seven rebounds and two assists. He extended his streak to nine consecutive games in double figures.

Deivon Smith returned his home state in-style as the Loganville, Georgia, product exploded for a career-high 13 points aided by a trio of three-pointers. All 13 points for Smith came during the first half. He handed out three assists and grabbed two steals.

Jalen Johnson made it three-for-three in double figures as a starter for State. He notched 12 points, five rebounds and a block.

MSU’s starting frontcourt of Abdul Ado and Tolu Smith impacted the game in all facets. The duo teamed up for 12 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks. The two blocks for Ado allowed him to surpass former teammate Aric Holman (2016-17-18-19) for fourth place on the program’s blocks list.

Javian Davis and Cameron Matthews rounded out the scoring for State with two points apiece, while Quinten Post secured two blocks on the defensive end.

For the contest, Mississippi State came away with a 29-of-66 shooting effort (43.9 percent), a season-high 12 triples on 27 attempts (44.4 percent) and rattled home a 13-of-18 clip at the free throw line (72.2 percent).

State won the battle of the boards by a 42-41 margin and turned its 13 offensive rebounds into a 13-5 edge in second-chance points. MSU also forced Georgia into 15 turnovers and scored 22 of the game’s 31 points off turnovers.

UGA countered with a 26-of-65 mark from the floor (40.0 percent), a 9-of-25 performance from three-point territory (36.0 percent) and was 12-of-18 on foul shots (66.7 percent). P.J. Horne delivered 21 points, fueled by five treys. Toumani Camara collected a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. He had to work for his 11 points on 13 shot attempts.

FROM THE BENCH – COACH HOWLAND

I thought our defense in the first half was the best defense we’ve played since I’ve been here at Mississippi State. They shot 23 percent [from the field]. I thought we did a terrific job in that respect. I thought we did a great job of being aggressive offensively. They were pushing it really hard on us in transition. So, when we got stops, we were going right back at them. We scored a bunch of points in that first half. Taking 37 shots in one half is a lot for us, but they forced the tempo to be that way.”

Any time you win a game in the SEC, it’s special. It is hard to do. This league is so tough, so many good players, so well-coached. The team we played tonight had made multiple comebacks in their previous seven games. We knew they weren’t going to fold up their tent. They were going to come at us hard, and they did. We really withstood a number of challenges. I thought our players showed a lot of poise tonight, and I’m really proud of that.”

“Deivon [Smith] played great. He really played with a lot of confidence and poise, and he handled the ball well. I’m so happy for him. He missed all of practice this week … I’m really proud of him and how he led us in the first half. Those three’s he gave us, he was 3-3 in the first half, they were huge shots.”

“I thought Iverson had a great second half and really got us off to a great start offensively with some tough shots. Our defense was good. I thought Tolu [Smith] really played good defense, especially in the first half on [Toumani] Camara.”

“A lot of good leadership. I thought Abdul was tremendous defensively all night for us. He changes so many shots. He makes it so hard that they had to rely on the three because they weren’t getting a lot of stuff done at the basket.”

FROM THE LOCKER ROOM – IVERSON MOLINAR

Toughness, defense and just playing together. I think that’s something we really did in the second half. We played together, and we shared the ball a little bit more. On defense, we struggled a little bit [during the second half], but at the end we tightened up.”

FROM THE LOCKER ROOM – DEIVON SMITH

Every time I get out onto the court, I just feel like I have to prove myself each and every time to whoever is watching and to everyone that’s on the court. Iverson [Molinar] has guided me a lot through the offseason – pretty much killing me in practice, going back and forth. I feel like I have learned a lot from him offensively, defensively and getting stronger. He’s helped me a lot throughout the offseason along with the coaches.”

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

Mississippi State fired out to a 5-0 advantage courtesy of an Iverson Molinar triple at the top of the key, and a D.J. Stewart Jr. midrange jumper during the contest’s opening moments.

Ahead 10-7 at the 15:17 mark, State ripped off 21 of the next 28 points over the next 7:13 off the clock. Deivon Smith kickstarted the flurry with a right wing trey and added a transition layup. Then, he buried two more trifectas 47 seconds apart to make it 24-12 with 10:37 remaining.

Smith provided the finishing touches and connected with Stewart Jr. for State’s seventh three-pointer of the stanza to stretch the lead to 31-14 with 8:04 left.

Mississippi State grabbed its largest advantage on another Stewart Jr. bucket to bring the tally to 40-20 with 3:10 to go.

Georgia countered with the last five points of the first 20 minutes to trim the State lead to 41-27 heading into the locker room. State’s defense bottled up UGA to a 9-for-38 shooting clip during the first half.

Molinar turned the momentum back in the Maroon and White’s favor with consecutive baskets and found Tolu Smith for a layup to bring the lead back to 47-29 at the 18:21 mark.

Georgia pulled back to within 10 points on two occasions, 55-45 and 57-47, but Mississippi State answered the bell each time. The first was an Abdul Ado jump hook in the lane, and the next was a Jalen Johnson three-ball from the right wing to beat UGA’s 2-3 zone defense with 13:27 remaining.

Molinar canned a late shot clock trey from the left corner courtesy of an Ado screen off an inbounds play to set a new career point mark and vault State ahead 81-64 with 2:20 to go.

Georgia used a nine-point spurt to draw within single digits, 81-73, with 1:08 left in the contest. However, Molinar knocked down a pair of free throws five seconds later for the final margin of 83-73.

UP NEXT

Mississippi State begins a stretch of five of its next six games at home and squares off with Kentucky to start the 2021 calendar year on Saturday. Tip time is on-tap for 5 p.m. CT from Humphrey Coliseum televised by the 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.