Bulldogs cruise in conference tuneup|[01/06/08]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 6, 2008

JACKSON — Lafayette College traveled more than 1,000 miles for a good-ole Southeastern Conference beatdown at the hands of Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon at aging Mississippi Coliseum.

Ben Hansbrough scored a team-high 17 points and Jarvis Varnado had 16 points and 12 rebounds as Mississippi State rocked the Easton, Pa. school 77-53 in front of a sparse crowd of 3,044.

Lafayette College — pronounced LAF-ay-ette and not to be confused with the county in North Mississippi that houses the Bulldogs’ biggest athletic rivals — continually ripped into double-digit Mississippi State leads before succoming late to the taller, more talented Bulldogs.

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It was the Leopards’ first trip to face Mississippi State (9-5) and with the loss, Lafayette fell to 0-8 all time against Southeastern Conference schools.

“I was very concerned against a Lafayette team that led Pittsburgh at the half on Wednesday,” said MSU coach Rick Stansbury, who won his 194th game as the school’s head coach. “If you take away the last three minutes of the first half and first five of the second, I thought we played that team as good as we could.”

Veteran Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon said he scheduled the trip to play the Bulldogs in an effort to toughen up his team. Four days ago, the Leopards lost by 21 to No. 13 Pittsburgh. In that game, Lafayette drained 17 3-pointers, but on Saturday was held to only six from behind the arc.

“You have to concentrate for 40 minutes to be a good basketball team,” O’Hanlon said. “I think our team found out tonight how physical you have to be and how well you have to execute to beat a good basketball team. It will definitely help us.”

MSU, meanwhile, started strong and minus a cold spell late in the first half and a Lafayette run in the opening minutes of the second, was rarely threatened. It has been the same story throughout most of the Bulldogs’ history in Jackson. Starting in the then-new arena in 1962, MSU has played 17 games in the capital city, having last lost in 1980 to Southern Miss. Under Stansbury, the team’s average margin of victory has been 33 points.

“I thought we played hard, rebounded and defended really well against a good team,” Varnado said.

State used an early 13-0 run to take control, expanding the lead to as many as 20 late in the first half on a Hansbrough 3-pointer.

The Bulldogs hit a swoon late in the first half, however, and went nearly six minutes between the end of the first half and start of the second without scoring a basket.

It was an even bigger drought from the Leopards that allowed MSU to distance itself. Lafayette pulled to within four at 44-40 with 15:30 to play in the second half, then went nearly eight minutes without scoring a field goal. For the second half, Lafayette connected on only 10 of 25 shots from the field and watched as the Bulldogs built a comfortable lead of 21 points.

Hansbrough connected on a 3-pointer with 6:20 to play to give the Bulldogs a 62-46 advantage and Varnado’s three-point play with 5:40 remaining gave Mississippi State a 67-46 lead. Over the final six minutes, the Bulldogs built the advantage to as many as 29.

“We had a good gameplan coming out defending against their shooters,” Mississippi State’s JaMont Gordon said. “They were a really good shooting team, but we played them well on defense.”

Bilal Abdullah led all scorers with 21 points for Lafayette.