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Bulldogs rolled past Bethune-Cookman 85-62



MSU basketball team
MSU basketball team: Photo from MSU Athletics

Story from MSU Athletics:
In the record books, Mississippi State was only credited with one win on Sunday as the Bulldogs rolled past Bethune-Cookman 85-62. But in the grand scheme of this season, make no mistake about it – MSU won twice.

All-Southeastern Conference center Tolu Smith III made his much-anticipated season debut to lead State to a New Year’s Eve triumph. Several hours before the ball dropped to welcome in 2024, the party got started early with Smith’s return in Starkville.

“Good to have him back,” a smiling MSU head coach Chris Jans said postgame. “We were all excited for him…Just happy for him and his family. It’s been a long road. For him to come back and get off to such a great start has to make him feel really good.”

Despite missing this year’s first 12 games with a foot injury suffered in preseason practice, Smith looked to be in close to midseason form against the Wildcats. The big man just missed a double-double, scoring 16 points and hauling down nine rebounds in 19 minutes of action. He didn’t miss a shot from the field all afternoon, going 5-for-5. He was also 6-of-7 from the free-throw line.

Smith’s impact was immediate, too. He entered for the first time with 15:30 remaining in the first half and enjoyed a standing ovation from the Humphrey Coliseum crowd.

“I told myself I wasn’t going to have jitters when I got in, but when I got in, it was like a little roar when I walked on,” Smith said. “So, I kind of had a little chill, but Coach Jans made sure I locked in.”

He locked in, indeed. Just over a minute later, Smith’s first basket gave the Dawgs a 14-4 lead. He’d go on to score a dozen points and capture four rebounds in the first half alone as State seized control of the game, taking a 41-22 advantage into the locker room at the intermission and essentially cruising the rest of the way.

It was apparent an active Smith served to energize everyone in Maroon and White.

“Exciting,” Trey Fort said of the feel to see Smith playing once again. “To see him come out there and do the things he did – oh yeah, we were ready.”

The excitement and spark was evident across the board. Eleven different Dawgs ended up scoring, including four in double figures and six with at least nine points.

Dashawn Davis scored 12 and Josh Hubbardtotaled 11. Shakeel Moore added 10. Fort and D.J. Jeffries had nine each.

Cameron Matthews had only two points but came up big with six assists and six steals. Jimmy Bell Jr., who has been so strong in the post in Smith’s absence, finished with six points and seven rebounds.

But this day centered around Smith. Three months or so since he got the news his final year at MSU would be delayed, the moment he’d been longing for has now arrived. And the best news of all for the Dawgs is Smith is certain the best is yet to come.

“I feel good,” Smith said. “Obviously I have some nicks and knacks and gotta keep getting better and getting in shape. There’s a difference between practice shape and game shape, so the more games I play, obviously I’ll get in better shape.”

And more games are certainly coming for Smith to do just that. Big ones in fact.

Next up, State will tip off its SEC slate this coming Saturday with an 11 a.m. contest at South Carolina. The gauntlet begins.

And leading the way for State into the fire will be Smith.

“I’m blessed, highly favored and excited for our team,” Smith said.

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