Mississippi State shoots past Centenary

Published 12:31 am Wednesday, December 23, 2009

JACKSON (AP) — Centenary coach Greg Gary swears Mississippi State swingman Ravern Johnson was in the scouting report.

Didn’t really matter. Johnson found himself open all night during an 88-51 win over the Gents and took advantage, pushing the Bulldogs to their seventh straight win this season and ninth consecutive in Jackson with five 3-pointers and 20 points.

‘‘He’s got great size and we don’t have a lot of size,’’ Gary said. ‘‘(He’s) 6-6 and such a great shooter, even if we’re into him, he can still get a pretty good look at the rim.’’

Email newsletter signup

Johnson’s got plenty of looks and came up big. He hit at least one 3-point shot during three key runs as the Bulldogs (10-2) marched away from the Gents (4-7), who lost their fifth straight. He combined with Stewart for nine points in a 14-4 run to start the second half and the Bulldogs never slowed down, eventually leading by as much as 43.

Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury appreciates those baskets, but was far more impressed with Johnson’s defense. The thin junior held Centenary’s leading scorer, David Perez, to just nine points, 11 off his season average.

Stansbury said Johnson’s development gives him two extraordinarily sharp defenders on the wing.

‘‘I know I’ve got a shutdown guy in Stew. This guy,’’ Stansbury said, nodding his head toward Johnson, ‘‘is becoming one and that’s really improved our team.’’

Combined with Jarvis Varnado’s shot-blocking inside presence, the Gents were at a loss on offense most of the night. Mississippi State held them to 32.2 percent (19 of 59) from the floor and scored 18 points off 11 turnovers.

Though Centenary, which drops to Division III next season, was clearly outmanned, the defensive performance continues a trend for the Bulldogs. They started the season with an embarrassing loss to Rider, immediately falling out of the Top 25. But their improved defense has spurred the recent winning streak and Mississippi State is now playing like everyone expected.

‘‘Defensively as a whole we’re taking more pride in it and I think it shows on the court,’’ Stewart said.

It was all those 3-pointers that caught the eye, though.

Johnson hit 5 of 8 and the Bulldogs were 14 of 27 overall, reaching double digits in made 3-pointers for the eighth time this season. It was the second best night of the year from 3-point range for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs hit 16 total and 57.1 percent in a win over St. Bonaventure.

‘‘Most of the night they were giving us wide-open shots,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘For the most part everyone was knocking them down.’’

Stewart’s steal and layup in transition began a 15-4 Bulldogs run that pushed Mississippi State to a 21-11 lead. Stewart added a 3-pointer during the run, Johnson hit two and Dee Bost added a fourth.

Stewart scored a traditional 3-point play and Johnson hit another 3 on an 11-2 run that opened up a 40-23 lead, then Johnson closed the half with a 3 that rattled around the rim before falling. He was fouled and hit the free throw, giving Mississippi State a 46-27 halftime lead.

‘‘They was playing zone and I got wide-open looks,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘Most of the time when I get a wide-open look, everything is going to go in.’’