Bost shrugged off the aching Achilles to put in 36 minutes and score a game-best 18 points as Mississippi State gained some valuable margin on their SEC West rival. Not that Bost originally intended to take the primary shooting role. “I wasn’t real aggressive until late in the first half, I tried to get everybody else involved,” he said. “But at some point me being a leader I had to just score.”
Score he did, such as the pair of three-pointers Bost used to halt an Arkansas assault early in the second half and initiate a 23-6 Bulldog run that took effective control of the evening. Bost was 4-of-6 at the arc, 7-of-12 on the whole, and had a pair of assists and even a blocked shot in the success. All on a leg that finally caught up with the junior.
“He played a bunch of minutes but it was a productive night from the standpoint of efficiency,” said Coach Rick Stansbury.
State also got an efficient evening from center Renardo Sidney, who posted a second-straight double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds in a smartly apportioned 26 minutes. Stansbury was more proud of some long-sought efficiency from the Bulldog bench which provided 21 points and 14 rebounds; the latter being just about MSU’s final margin on the backboards in fact.
Soph center Wendell Lewis had eight of the points and six rebounds spelling Sidney, and doing it well. “I felt I came off the bench and helped the team out a lot, played defense and did my part.” His coach agreed. “We’ve seen spurts out of him, times we thought he was about to arrive. Tonight he played huge for us, he finished with aggression and blocked a shot or two.”
Such backup contributions arrived in time to help Stansbury out of a jam. Bost wasn’t the only Dog playing in pain. Fellow starting guard Riley Benock injured a shoulder in Tuesday practice and was questionable right up to game time. Literally. “It was during starting lineup when Riley finally said Coach, let me go,” Stansbury reported. Though the senior didn’t take a shot from-field, he knocked down all four free throws and gave some timely defense.
Also missing the action was starting guard Ravern Johnson, but his pain was self-imposed by suspension for missed practices and classes. Fortunately the available team didn’t seem to miss his outside shots, going 7-of-16 at the arc as new starters Jalen Steele and Shaun Smith both hit treys, as did alternate Brian Bryant. More to Stansbury’s liking was how the club ignored all the distractions to get the job done.
“I liked our togetherness. Nothing mattered out there tonight but winning.” Sadly only 3,121 got to watch the win in person due to the afternoon snow showers.
Then again for much of the first half there was little to cheer either way. The first quarter in particular lived down to outside opinions of the SEC West, with Arkansas using a long series of State turnovers to take a 21-14 lead. Once the Bulldogs got a handle on themselves and the ball they caught up and surged on ahead as Bost his consecutive threes and Steele added another for a 33-28 intermission margin. Lewis came up big in the first half, too, powering for buckets like a brand-new Dog.
“I’ve been working on it lately in practice, going to the basket hard and I took it into the game tonight. I scored, finished, did pretty good.” Meanwhile Steele was doing a strong defensive job on top Hog shooter Rotnei Clark, held scoreless the whole first half.
The second period was another matter as Clarke shook loose for a pair of treys and short-lived Arkansas lead. Very short, because Lewis drove for one layup and dunked a fast feed from Kodi Augustus to draw a Razorback timeout. Had the Bulldogs not gone on another turnover binge they could have blown this one open even earlier and easier.
As it was State hit the boards harder this half giving Arkansas few second chances. On the other end Bost again drilled back-to-back longballs for a 53-42 lead at the media break. Then as Razorback coverage crumbled State’s Brian Bryant took advantage for five-straight points.
“I just tried to let the game come to me at first,” Bost said. “But then I started be aggressive, trying to take advantage of what I had. And it worked.”
Arkansas had a burst or two left in them, getting within 60-52 but missing on three ensuing trips—including a pair of long shots—to quench any comeback. At 3:02 Sidney was undercut by Michael Sanchez for a foul but also drew his own intemperate technical in the process. “I didn’t want to know what he said,” Stansbury admitted. “I just wanted to know what the situation was.” Fittingly Clarke missed one of the two tech-shots for Arkansas, but then Sidney made just half his chances too. It all had minimal impact though Arkansas did get within six in the last minute, as other Dogs delivered at the stripe. In fact State didn’t sink a single basket the last nine minutes nor need to.
Marcus Britt was the only Razorback to reach ten points, while Julysses Nobles came off the bench for nine to match Clarke. The Arkansas shooter was just 3-of-11 and ended up going inside the arc, even the lane, more than usual as he was hounded by Steele and cohorts. Delvon Johnson had seven rebounds but his team was whipped 41-28 on the glass.
“This was one of the gutsiest efforts,” Stansbury said. “We’d scrambled trying to do some things with Brian, Jalen, Dee in the lineup, we had to play that way some. We didn’t the second half as much because Riley was able to give us some things.”
Maybe most remarkable was how State overcame 21 turnovers, not nearly all of them forced, and still won a SEC game. “We had to offset turnovers by guarding them,” Stansbury said. “The second half we got to the foul line, and for the game we were 16-of-18. That’s a huge stat.”
With the second-half of SEC season underway a two-game lead in the West looms pretty large as well, particularly with a very winnable Saturday game at Auburn ahead. Though, Bost cautioned, “We can’t take them for granted. We’ve got all these games on the road so we have to go in and fight. Every game is needed from here on out, not just for second place in the West.”
Bost will miss Thursday practice to take care of a previous injury. He’ll have a bone graft to fix the loosened front tooth, a souvenir from the home game with Vanderbilt. As for the leg, “It loosened up bit it’s still sore.” How much Benock can do once the shot to his right shoulder wears off is one question; and Sidney had to sit a couple of second-half stints with a sore knee.
Nor would Stansbury give any post-game clues on when Johnson will return from the penalty box. “Ahhh, way too soon to reevaluate,” he said.
Saturday’s tipoff is 6:00ct for FSN and ESPN3 telecast.