INSIDE MISSISSIPPI STATE

Tough enough


Published: Thursday, January 22, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 22, 2004 at 1:28 a.m.

In his postgame news conference Wednesday night in the O'Connell Center, Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury was quick to point out his team is just one basket away from being undefeated.

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Mississippi State forward Lawrence Roberts attempts to pass around the Florida defense.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun

Stansbury wasn't playing the "could have" or "should have" game. He was making a point: His team is good.

Suddenly, people are starting to notice.

Wednesday night's 79-68 drumming of No. 17 Florida was a big win for the Bulldogs, who are showing that playing a weak nonconference schedule doesn't exactly make you weak.

"Going on the road and winning a game like this has to open some eyes," said Bulldogs center Lawrence Roberts, who had game highs of 21 points and 14 rebounds. "We haven't gotten too much respect, but we don't care about that. We just care about going out there and getting the win."

The 19th-ranked Bulldogs improved to 15-1 and remained atop the SEC West with a 4-1 conference record. More impressively, they moved to 8-0 on the road this season, including 3-0 in the SEC.

When the final buzzer sounded Wednesday, the Bulldogs pulled their tucked jerseys from their shorts and nonchalantly walked off the floor. There was no dancing, no excitement, despite emptying the O'Connell Center when they led Florida by 22 points with seven minutes remaining.

"We expect to win every game we play whether it's on the road or at home" said point guard Timmy Bowers, who scored 13 points and pulled seven rebounds. "We know they put their shorts on the same as we do."

The Bulldogs' only defeat this season was a 67-66 loss to Kentucky at home last Tuesday. Erik Daniels lay-up at the buzzer gave the Wildcats the win. Stansbury said he's proud of how his team bounced back from that.

"There was no question we had our hearts ripped out there," Stansbury said. "Some teams wouldn't have recovered from that."

But the Bulldogs did, pasting LSU by 10 in Baton Rouge last Saturday before handing it to the Gators on Wednesday.

Roberts, a Baylor transfer, was the Bulldogs' catalyst. He spun and weaved his way through Florida's post defenders, hitting on 9-of-13 shot attempts while throwing his body after every rebound in sight.

"I think the big thing for us is we have a bunch of tough young men," Stansbury said. "You have to have a bunch of tough young men to win on the road."

Roberts said another key for the Bulldogs was keeping the crowd out of the game. The Bulldogs never trailed by more than three and took the lead for good with 12:24 left in the first half on a Marcus Campbell dunk.

"We tried to take the crowd out of it early," Roberts said. "I think we did a great job."

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