STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury shook a few hands and then hustled off the court following his team's 66-64 victory over Utah State on Saturday. It was almost as if he was worried the referees would call everybody back for one more possession.
Coming off a tough loss to No. 6 Baylor, Stansbury had a feeling this would be a very dangerous game for the 15th-ranked Bulldogs.
He was absolutely right.
"We weren't at our best from the tip — from the first possession," Stansbury said. "You have some guys not feeling great, the emotion of Baylor and then put them against a very good Utah State game and that's what you get — a one-possession game. We're lucky we found a way to win it."
Rodney Hood scored 16 points and Arnett Moultrie had 15 and Mississippi State (13-2) needed a defensive stop on its final possession to seal the win. Utah State's Danny Berger missed a 3-pointer as time expired that would have won the game.
Renardo Sidney added 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field. Moultrie had 10 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season. Stansbury said both players had a sinus infection but fought through the sickness to post good numbers.
Utah State (8-6) had its four-game winning streak snapped. Preston Medlin led the Aggies with 15 points, Brockeith Pane added 11 and Morgan Grim had 10.
The Aggies have played in three straight NCAA tournaments, but lost several starters from last season's team. They still had plenty of talent to make things difficult for the Bulldogs.
"We made some errors down the stretch," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. "I'm pleased that we were in the game, but we've had enough success in our program that we're not going to feel good about losing a game like that. That was a game we could have won."
Mississippi State's Dee Bost had four assists to become the school's career leader, passing Derrick Zimmerman's record of 514. But Bost struggled for most of the game, shooting just 1 of 10 from the field. He's struggled over his past four games, shooting just 11 of 52 from the field.
"Lately, I've been playing bad, but other guys have been stepping up," Bost said. "That's the luxury we have."
Mississippi State was coming off Wednesday's 54-52 loss to Baylor in Dallas — a much-anticipated, emotional game that came down to the final seconds. The Bulldogs looked less enthused in front of a half-full and only partly interested Humphrey Coliseum crowd on Saturday, and their performance in the first half reflected that malaise.
Utah State pulled ahead 15-6 midway through the first half as Mississippi State missed shots, made sloppy passes and blew defensive assignments, but the Bulldogs eventually responded with a 13-4 run that tied the game at 19. Sidney's 3-pointer with 27 seconds remaining in the half gave Mississippi State a 32-29 lead.
Mississippi State could never shake Utah State in the second half. Every time the Bulldogs made a good pass or shot to take the lead, the Aggies would respond with an equally impressive possession — though Mississippi State's lax defense was a factor, too.
"It was real frustrating," Moultrie said. "I was real mad. Our guards were mad, too, but we just had to stick together and fight to get the win.
The Aggies pulled ahead 64-62 on Kyisean Reed's jumper with 2:42 left. But Reed missed two free throws on the next possession and Moultrie tied the game at 64 on a putback with 1:25 remaining.
Bost made two free throws with 34 seconds remaining, giving the Bulldogs a 66-64 lead.
Utah State's final possession had several stops and starts because Mississippi State had fouls to give, making it difficult for the Aggies to set up a play. But the final look was decent, with Berger catching the ball on the inbounds play, taking a step toward the basket and letting a 3-pointer fly.
It hit skipped off two sides of the rim before falling harmlessly to the court, and the Bulldogs won for the 12th time in 13 games.
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