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Bulldogs Use Key Second Half Stretch To Fend Of Upset Minded Liberty
Mississippi State held the Flames scoreless over a six-minute stretch late in the second half to keep the Flames from posting a first-round upset as the Bulldogs opened up the San Juan Shootout with a 78-67 victory over Liberty, Monday afternoon, at Mario Morlaes Coliseum.
Mississippi State (8-2) looked like it was going to run away with the victory as the Bulldogs scored the first nine points of the game as a jumper by Charles Rhodes at the 16:58 mark gave Mississippi State a 9-0 lead.
Liberty (2-6) finally got on the board as Doug Stewart (So., F, Sanford, N.C.) pulled down an offensive rebound and stuck one back just 18 seconds later. However, the lead remained the same over the next six minutes of the game as Rhodes connected on a pair of free throws at the 10:30 mark to give Mississippi State a 25-15 lead.
On the following possession, Anthony Smith (Fr., G, Plano, Texas) took a pass from Evan Risher (So., G, Fort Worth, Texas) in the corner and buried a three-pointer to start a 12-2 run as Larry Blair (Jr., G, Charlotte, N.C.) connected on another trey to knot the game at 27-27 with 5:09 left to play in the opening half.
The two teams traded the lead back and forth over the next several minutes until Blair and Russell Monroe (So., C, Alma, Mich.) sank four-straight free throws over the last 90 seconds of the period to give the Flames a 38-36 edge at the intermission.
The Flames were able to keep hold of the lead over the first six minutes of the second half as Stewart knocked down a three-pointer with 14:18 left to play in the game to give the Flames a 48-44 lead. However, Mississippi State outscored the Flames 11-1 over the six minutes of the game with the Bulldogs taking a six-point lead, 55-49, on a jumper by Jamall Edmondson at the 8:23 mark.
Liberty responded by scoring seven of the next eight points and trimmed the lead to one, 57-56, after a Blair steal and a fast-break lay-up, but the Bulldogs outscored the Flames 10-2 over the next two minutes to seal the victory.
"We certainly are happy with our performance tonight, especially against a team like Mississippi State," stated head coach Randy Dunton. "There was a stretch in the second half that cost us the game, but tonight is something that we can build on."
"I think one of the best things that came out of tonight can be found in the fact that we got down 9-0 and we didn't quit. We continued to fight and got ourselves back into the game."
Liberty finished the game with a 35-29 rebounding advantage over the Bulldogs, while the Flames shot better than 40 percent from the field (42.9 percent) for the fifth-straight game, including a 42.1 percent mark from behind the three-point arc (8-of-19).
Both teams had three players finish in double figures with Jamont Gordon led Mississippi State with 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting, while Rhodes and Dietric Slater followed with 13 and 12 points each.
Blair led the Flames with 26 points as he was 9-of-17 from the floor, including 3-of-6 from three-point range, while Stewart came off the bench to score a career high 13 points as he was 5-of-8 from the field and 2-of-4 from behind the arc.
The Flames will continue tournament action tomorrow afternoon as they will face Mount St. Mary's in Game 7 of the San Juan Shootout. Tip-off is set for 3 p.m. (AST).