The junior center produced the first double-double of his Mississippi State career, matching 11 points with the same number of rebounds as the host Bulldogs thumped Tennessee-Martin 76-50. A fifth-straight win improved State to 6-1, while the Skyhawks left 1-5.
With primary postmen Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney still sidelined the Bulldogs looked to Lewis to literally fill the gap. He did, picking his spots and shots carefully on offense and overpowering the UTM front line almost at will. “It felt good. I just wound up tonight having fun, playing ball,” Lewis said.
“I try not to put that much pressure on myself, I try to have fun and do what I have to do on the court to help the team win.”
Lewis had tried to do the same, sort of, four nights ago in a start against Louisiana-Monroe. Results weren’t impressive with just four points and five rebounds despite out-matching those visitors in size and skills. A tight zone clamped down on Lewis, though his coach also thought the 6-8 post could have asserted himself more.
This time around Lewis did, even if the Skyhawks had more size and depth to throw at him.“He was much more aggressive, against a lot bigger guys,” Coach Rick Stansbury said. “Tonight he was very steady for us.” Stansbury even wondered if Lewis could have been more aggressive as he got through 26 minutes without a foul.
“I had a better chance tonight. I could have did better last game, I didn’t try to score that much. Tonight Coach said I need you to score, be aggressive in the paint.” Lewis blocked two shots, and influenced a lot more as UTM shied away from coming all the way to the goal most of the evening.
While Lewis got the double-fun, State scoring was paced by others. Forward Rodney Hood was took quick, too aggressive, just too good for anyone Martin tried to put in his way. The freshman hit eight of his nine shots for 17 points with seven boards, and even blocked four Skyhawk shots. It was just the latest impressive outing for an eye-opening rookie.
“Rodney has got one of the best mid-range games there is,” Stansbury said. “He was playing three and four, tonight they guarded him with a four a lot and we let him dribble-drive.” Guard Dee Bost had 17 points as well and two of his team’s four treys. And off the bench rookie guard Deville Smith added 15 points making seven of 10 attempts.
“It was good to see him out there progressing,” said Bost of his younger backcourt partner.
Martin had two double-digit scorers with 17 by guard Dane Smith and 12 for forward Myles Taylor. But the Skyhawks shot just 38% for the game and much worse than that when it really was a game. Only some late buckets and boards narrowed State’s final margins.
“They’re not the best team we’re going to play,” admitted Stansbury. Still he liked how his club showed no holiday hangovers to play well enough most of the game and their best in a second-half stretch that put it away.
The Bulldogs spread their shots around well early, with Bost the most efficient scoring eight in building a 20-10 lead. And that was despite two made baskets being negated on iffy foul calls. For their part the Skyhawks couldn’t get anything much to drop inside despite consistent penetration. Their outside game was nothing to shout about either, not until Chris Richardson and Taylor finally got longballs to drop and narrow the gap to 28-22.
But the rest of the half Martin had more turnovers than shots, much less makes, while State eased back ahead 35-24 at intermission. Hood and Lewis dominated the first five minutes of the next half with five-straight points by the latter. Smith threw in a three for the 53-33 lead, meaning the remaining 13 minutes were about stats and subs. Before he sat down Smith’s breakaway slam pushed the lead to a high of 30 points.
“I thought the second half we were better,” Stansbury said. “We were very, very efficient and we didn’t turn the ball over as much. For the most part we played hard, that’s all you ask. We seem to have a tendency to wear guys down.”
State didn’t have to wear down many Dogs, though Hood and starting guard Brian Bryant did put in 37 and 32 minutes. Smith gave 26 off the bench and Lewis was spelled by frosh Rocquez Johnson. Stansbury said junior Moultrie (tendinitis) could have played if the game got tight. “He didn’t have to, and that’s good.” Sidney did not wear the brace on his left wrist seen Monday, but was never in the playing plans this night.
Nor did Stansbury make it seem probable Sidney will return to the court in Sunday’s 1:30 game with North Texas, though he did say Moutrie will participate. He also said Shaun Smith (hip) remains uncertain as the latest tests have yet to show what exactly is hampering the reserve guard.
“We’ve had to play a lot of different lineups these last two games, and doing that is going to help us,” Stansbury said. In the meanwhile though, having Lewis step to the fore more than met the need this time. Having finally put a double-double in the books, does he have another one in him?