Mississippi State faced its first bout of adversity Wednesday night in the state capital of Jackson, but coach Chris Jans and the No. 17 Bulldogs learned a valuable lesson — how to scrap a game plan and win on the fly.
In a tight game for 30 minutes, the defensive-minded Bulldogs (10-0) kept their record spotless by withstanding an 11-1 second-half run by Jackson State and rallying for a 69-59 victory to stay in the elite group of the nation’s seven undefeated teams entering Friday.
They will push to keep that record spotless when they face nonconference foe Nicholls on Saturday in Starkville, Miss.
The win marked the fifth time in school history that Mississippi State started a season with 10 straight triumphs, but it was no easy task playing against Jackson State in its city and at the local multipurpose coliseum.
Trailing most of the first half, the Bulldogs went on a 20-7 run in the final nine minutes to take a 31-26 lead into the half. They trailed again in the second — down 51-49 with 9:27 to play — before outscoring the Tigers 20-8 down the stretch.
Jans said his club — which entered the game yielding just under 50 points a game — had to take a different approach on the defensive end.
“It was the first time all year long we had to make major changes in how we defend,” Jans said. “(Jackson State) did some things that other teams haven’t. I knew it was going to happen sooner or later, and they exposed us. We literally kind of took the game plan and threw it away at one of the media timeouts.
“We said, OK, here’s how we’re going to guard this action and that action as best we can.’ It makes us feel good going forward that when we have to do something like that, guys are capable of changing midstream. We haven’t had that type of adjustment all year long.”
Mississippi State’s defense, which hasn’t allowed an opponent to put 60 points on the scoreboard this season, forced 20 turnovers against the Tigers. The Starkville school remains the SEC’s only unbeaten club.
Jans became the Bulldogs’ second coach to win his first 10 games, matching E.C. Hayes, who ended the 1911-12 season at 9-0 and won the 1912-13 season opener.
Jackson State’s Coltie Young, a Starkville native, netted 23 points and was 7 for 11 from long range in the loss. Now the Bulldogs will have to face a similar offensive weapon in Nicholls’ Caleb Huffman, who started off the week the right way for the Colonels (5-5).
Huffman went 13 for 18 from the field and 3 for 6 from distance in his squad’s 85-65 victory over Rust College on Sunday. The former Central Michigan guard’s 31 points set a career high.
“We’re just really trying to stack good practices together, staying focused, making sure we stay in our huddles and getting locked in,” said the 6-foot-4 Huffman, who also had five steals, four rebounds and three assists.
The reigning two-time Southland Conference regular-season champions, the Colonels used a 45-point first half to win 88-73 in their conference opener against Southeastern Louisiana on Thursday night. Huffman and Latrell Jones each had 17 points in front of the home crowd at Thibodaux, La.
Nicholls shot 28 of 55 (50.9 percent) from the field and was 12 of 23 (52.2 percent) from deep as it broke a three-game losing streak against the Lions.
–Field Level Media