Mississippi St tops Utah St 71-63
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Mississippi State has a little height and muscle on its roster this season, with six different players in the rotation that stand at least 6-foot-7.
The Bulldogs are showing they know how to use it, too.
Roquez Johnson and Fred Thomas both scored 15 points to lead Mississippi State over Utah State 71-63 on Saturday. Gavin Ware added 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field and also grabbed eight rebounds.
Mississippi State (3-0) dominated inside, with a 38-21 rebounding advantage and a 30-18 edge in points inside the paint.
''This is a great win for our guys and the program,'' Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. ''We said our objective before the season was to be in a serious conversation for postseason basketball and the only way you can do that is by beating quality programs like Utah State.''
The Bulldogs have won their first three games for the second year in a row. They trailed 58-57 with six minutes remaining but scored the next eight points to take control.
''We grew up,'' MSU guard Trivante Bloodman said. ''We fought through adversity and we kept playing hard. The young guys are seeing that we can fight through a whole game - a close game against a good team.''
Utah State (3-1) was led by Darius Perkins and Chris Smith, who each scored 14 points. Jalen Moore added 13.
It was a tight game that featured 18 lead changes and nine ties before Mississippi State pulled away with a few minutes remaining.
Utah State jumped out to a 38-34 halftime lead by shooting 7 of 14 (50 percent) from 3-point range. Perkins made four of them for 12 points to lead all scorers at the break. Thomas and Johnson both had 10 for Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs closed the gap early in the second half, with Thomas making a 3-pointer from the corner for a 42-41 lead.
Mississippi State played better defense late in the game, especially on the perimeter. When the Aggies stopped getting open looks from behind the arc, they struggled to score.
The Bulldogs were able to exploit Utah State's lack of size the entire game. Mississippi State had 15 offensive rebounds and scored 14 points on second-chance opportunities.
''They just pounded us on the boards,'' Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. ''That's basically the game. We had some ill-advised possessions and they kept getting easy baskets on the boards.''
Utah State freshman forward David Collette, who was leading the team with 16 points per game, managed just six points on 3-of-5 shooting. He played just 24 minutes because of constant foul trouble.
Collette made a short jumper to give Utah State a 58-57 lead with 6:01 remaining, but Mississippi State scored the next eight points, holding the Aggies scoreless for more than four minutes.
Utah State: Utah State shot just 3 of 13 from 3-point range in the second half. The Aggies beat Mississippi State 87-68 last season in Logan, Utah.
Mississippi State: Craig Sword, who led the Bulldogs in scoring last season, hasn't played yet this year after having surgery on his back in October. Coach Rick Ray hopes Sword will be back in the next couple weeks.
Utah State plays at UC Davis on Wednesday.
Mississippi State hosts Clayton State on Monday.
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