Roberts sparks Bulldogs over Tigers

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 31, 2004

BATON ROUGE &045; There ain’t a lot of love on the mean playground courts in Brooklyn, N.Y. Kids up there don’t cut you any slack.

Gary Ervin knows this all too well. The Mississippi State guard knows looking around for a blatant foul gets you nowhere fast. Games move at only a couple of paces: full-throttle and bruising.

He attributes is upbringing on the asphalt as enough preparation for the smothering life he expect in the SEC.

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Wait until the fellas back at the concrete schools hear about how one of their prized pupils prospered Saturday.

The soft-spoken, diminutive true freshman led the Bulldogs with 13 points, including a huge 3-pointer with 5:19 left to propel State to a 64-54 victory over LSU, made more important after the ‘Dogs heartbreaking 67-66 loss at home to Kentucky Tuesday.

&uot;Nothing intimidates him. If you saw him on the playground, you’d understand. He’s never scared,&uot; State head coach Rick Stansbury said of his jewel, Ervin. &uot;Out there, guys you play against will either cut you or shoot you. He never backs down.&uot;

Ervin, whose awkward form precipitated Stansbury to say it looked like a &uot;slingshot,&uot; buried a wide-open trey off a ball reversal with just more than five minutes left to put the Bulldogs up 51-45 and deliver LSU’s last rites.

The Tiger (12-2, 2-1) loss broke a 13-game home winning streak at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, and vaulted State (14-1, 3-1) atop LSU in the SEC West race.

Ironically, it was the Bulldogs who blew a 19-point first half lead in the second half, allowing LSU its only lead of the night, 42-40, when Darrel Mitchell canned a triple.

The Tigers lead lasted all of 17 seconds, as Lawrence Roberts two free throws tied it up with 8:23 left.

&uot;When (LSU) got back in it and went ahead, our team never panicked,&uot; said Stansbury, who watched his team fight back from 18 points against Kentucky only to lose on a desperation tip-in. &uot;We kept out composure. I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a group of guys that have the mental toughness and mental ability to never give up.&uot;

LSU, who had two more points (15) than turnovers (13) in the opening 20, climbed out a 27-8 hole with better management of the ball and consistent shooting in the first 12 minutes of the second half.

Guard Xavier Whipple hit two 3’s in a two-minute stretch to bring the Tigers within six, 33-27, the closest they had been since they trailed 12-6 on an Ervin layup with 12:57 remaining.

&uot;At halftime we made a little adjustment against (State’s) zone. We started to set some high ball screens on it,&uot; LSU head coach John Brady said. &uot;Xavier made a couple of baskets. (Antonio) Hudson was able to get some penetration. What we don’t do against the zone is we don’t subtly play-make as we should.&uot;

Unlike to Tuesday’s disappointment, the Bulldogs were able to put the game away late at the charity stripe. Against Kentucky, State blew four opportunities from the line to seal the deal.