More than getting back to winning, just romping past an opponent was welcome to a Bulldog team that has had its share of frustrations. "Since really exhibition game we haven't had anything but a nailbiter," said senior guard Riley Benock. "So it's good to have a time to relax a little bit and have some fun watching other people play."
"The biggest thing I was pleased of, besides getting the win, was I thought we had a decent response to last night," Coach Rick Stansbury said. "We could have very easily not had any sharpness to us at all. We came out with as good a focus as you'd hope to have."
State was certainly focused on the basket…and from long range at that. Guards Ravern Johnson and Benock led the perimeter parade with five treys apiece. Johnson's edge in overall scoring came on a single two-point goal, giving him 17 for the afternoon. A shorter one for the senior too, as after putting in 37 minutes Saturday night Johnson only had to work 26 this time. That is no small consideration since State has two more real games right ahead Monday and Tuesday as well as a Wednesday exhibition.
Benock didn't mind coming in scoring-second though, as he set career highs for both points (15) and treys. He hit on his first two arc-attempts and set tone teammates eagerly followed. "I was trying to be aggressive from the start, I got a couple of easy looks and it just carried over from there." Benock also led State with a college-best eight rebounds. For a guard to set State's backboard pace said as much about how this game was played as who Stansbury was able to shuttle on and off and around the court in the romp.
"We made some threes the first half, Riley got us going," said the coach. "That team was manning us, and he was shooting it before he caught it. Last night he wasn't that way." For that matter State didn't shoot that way enough Saturday, missing all eight arc-tries in the second half in a 63-62 loss to East Tennessee State.
Sunday there was absolutely no outside hangover though. Playing as if the shot clock had been cut in half the Bulldogs allowed no three-look to go unlaunched. If not much of an X-and-O approach it assuredly worked very well. First it was Benock, then Johnson throwing them in from well beyond the arc. In fact of the first 18 State shots, 11 were longball attempts. On the infrequent occasions something resembling ‘sets' were run to conclusion, center Elgin Bailey managed to convert or draw fouls.
"The way our team is, if you have a shot you've got to take it," Benock said. "And the defense they played, they sagged off us and we got good looks early, knocked them down, and it propelled us on."
Whether they wanted to or not the Aggies got caught up in the outside approach too, but were not nearly as effective going 3-of-12 in the first half compared to 9-of-16 for State. One of NCA&T's rare made-treys came at 7:52 by guard Nick Simpson and got them within 20-18. But Benock answered in-kind to trigger a 15-1 Bulldog run. The halftime margin was 41-21.
The Aggies would never come closer than 16 in the last half, which saw Johnson and Benock hit their final longballs before Stansbury got serious about subbing. This did nothing for the quality of play of course, but that was not State's goal for getting through the day. All 14 eligible players saw at least an official minute's game time, and the real entertainment value came from getting to see reserve center John Riek put in 11 minutes; matching his career high.
The 7-1 soph got his first points of the season, four of them all on free throws. He even got an assist, albeit unintended. Riek lost track of the shot clock and kicked it far, far out to Benock with just a couple of ticks left. Benock heaved two-handed only to have it bank-in. "A couple years ago we used have half-court competitions at shootarounds, I guess it carried over from there!" he joked.
Forward Kodi Augustus had nine points and Bailey eight for State. The Aggies got 16 points from Simpson and 14 more from center Thomas Coleman.
If the players were able to have some fun, the coach was glad just to catch something of a break. "For the first time it allowed me to play the bench through mistakes. Play Shaun (Smith) a few minutes, John a few minutes. That's what we needed. It's the first game that wasn't a nailbiter down to the end."
But the clock has re-started on the next step in State's five-day marathon. The five-game stretch continues Monday with a 7:00 tip against Nicholls State (4-3). Stansbury says ignore the record and look at the results. "They went to LSU and won, that's all you need to know. They're going to spread the floor, run give-man motion, try to shoot with five seconds left on the shot clock. They're going to try to wear you out chasing them."
State hosts Alabama State in a 7:00 Tuesday game.