STARKVILLE, Miss. - Mississippi State breezed to an 81-67 victory against Jackson State Tuesday evening in the first round of the NIT.
On the shoulders of Jarvis Varnado's 18th double-double of the season, the Bulldogs (24-11) sent the Jackson State Tigers (19-13) packing and moved on to face the North Carolina Tar Heels (17-16) in the NIT's second round.
The first-team All-SEC senior scored a team-high 21 points to go along with his 11 rebounds and 3 blocks. Second-team All-SEC sophomore Dee Bost recorded 18 points, 6 assists and 3 steals while junior Kodi Augustus registered 13 points and 5 rebounds.
Senior Garrison Johnson scored a game-high 32 points for the Tigers on a 6-of-14 mark beyond the arc.
The Bulldogs jumped out to an early 16-8 lead at the 12:55 mark in the game's first half. A trey from senior Barry Stewart sparked a 7-0 run for State late in the half as MSU led 32-23 at the break.
Jackson State closed the MSU lead to just 39-33 at the 14:16 mark of the second half. However, a flagrant foul on Tiger sophomore Phillip Williams and two ensuing technicals sent him to the locker room. The action sparked the MSU players and led to eight-straight points for Bost in the next 20 seconds for a 28-11 run.
State led 66-44 with 5:10 remaining. Familiar territory struck State, however, as JSU answered with an 11-0 run of its own to close the gap to 66-55 at the 2:58 mark. Free throws quickly sealed the win for MSU, as a Riley Benock trey capped a 7-1 Bulldog run to ice the game.
"They had every reason and excuse not to come out tonight," MSU coach Rick Stansbury said, referring to his team's gut-wrenching 75-74 overtime setback to 2nd-ranked Kentucky on Sunday in the finals of the SEC Tournament. "But they did. This is our fourth game in five days. Considering what we were coming out of, I thought our readiness and focus was very good."
The Bulldogs recorded a season-high 12 steals as the team moves to 7-6 all-time in NIT action. This year's appearance marks State's 18th post-season birth and 10th under Stansbury.
Mississippi State will host North Carolina at Humphrey Coliseum for the first time on Saturday at 11 a.m. in a game televised by ESPN.
TICKET INFORMATION FOR MSU-NORTH CAROLINA
If you ordered first round NIT tickets, your tickets are automatically renewed and can be processed and printed at home through your Dog Tag account. You will have until 5 p.m. CST Thursday, March 18, to process your payment and print your tickets at home. Any tickets not processed and printed by customers by 5 p.m. CST Thursday will be printed by the Ticket Office and available at will call in the Bryan Athletic Administration Building Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST and at The Hump beginning at 9 a.m. CST on Saturday.
If you did not order first round tickets and would like to purchase tickets to the second round game, you may order online now or by phone at the ticket office beginning at 8 a.m. CST Wednesday. (REMINDER: If you purchase second round tickets and the Bulldogs advance to the third round, your tickets will be automatically renewed.)
Student tickets will be on sale at the Bryan Athletic Administration Building beginning at 8 a.m. Wednesday and are $4. Student tickets will be assigned in the regular student sections but will be reserved seats.