ATHENS, Ga. (WTVA/MSU Athletics) – Jalen Steele scored a career-high 21 points and Mississippi State won its first true road game of the season Saturday afternoon.
Behind a dynamic 3-point shooting night from Steele, MSU pulled away in the second half to post a 72-61 Southeastern Conference victory over Georgia at Stegeman Coliseum.
With the victory, the Bulldogs improved to (7-7) overall and (2-0) in league play. MSU snapped a three-game losing streak to Georgia, while starting (2-0) in league play for the first time since 2010. Georgia dropped to (6-9) and (0-2).
“It is a great win for our guys,” MSU head coach Rick Ray said. “We had been making some baby steps. Then we had a very nice win against South Carolina. To be able to follow that up with a true road win is huge for our guys.
“It is like we finally got a monkey off our backs. Being able to get that road win in the first conference road game makes it even sweeter.”
Energized by Wednesday’s victory over South Carolina, MSU took the court focused and determined Saturday afternoon. Quickly, Steele made his mark scoring the game’s first five points. MSU parlayed the quick start into an early 11-5 advantage.
Georgia closed within 13-12 only to see a Craig Sword 3-point basket go home for MSU. Georgia quickly tied things at 16 and later seized early control of the game with a 9-0 run for a 30-23 lead.
A 3-point play by Fred Thomas helped spark the comeback. The lead changed hands five times in the final 1:53 as MSU grabbed a 36-35 lead at halftime.
“The fast start was important for us,” Ray said. “You saw a lot of players getting into the action. Our ball movement and shot selection was good. In the second half, we had a positive assists-to-turnover ratio (seven to six). Those are the kinds of plays you have to make to win on the road.”
MSU found another gear defensively in the second half, allowing only 26 points.
Things were nip-and-tuck in the second half before back-to-back 3s by Thomas and Steele allowed the Bulldogs to open 50-44 advantage. After not hitting a 3-point basket against South Carolina, the Bulldogs were 9-of-20 from long range Saturday.
Georgia forced one last tie before MSU took control for good with a 12-1 run. That run was capped by back-to-back 3s from Steele, giving MSU a 62-51 advantage with 5:02 left.
Jalen Steele also went 3-for-4 from the free throw line, missing a free throw for the first time since December, 2011. The miss snapped a streak of 30 consecutive made free throws for the junior.
For the contest, MSU hit 25 of 54 shots from the field (46.3 percent), 9 of 20 shots from 3-point range (45.0 percent) and 13 of 23 shots from the foul line (56.5 percent). Georgia hit 19 of 58 shots from the field (32.8 percent), 4 of 19 shots from 3-point range (21.1 percent) and 19 of 32 shots from the foul line (59.4 percent).
Georgia held a 44-37 rebounding advantage. MSU had 13 assists and 14 turnovers, while Georgia had 10 assists and 15 turnovers.
Sword added 16 points for MSU. Trivante Bloodman had a team-high five assists, while Steele had a team-high seven rebounds.
Georgia received 16 points from Ken Caldwell-Pope and 14 points from Charles Mann.
MSU returns to the Humphrey Coliseum for a Wednesday night showdown with Alabama. The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide will tip off at 8 p.m. at Humphrey Coliseum.