STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP)—Mississippi State had the flashy ranking and shiny new Southeastern Conference championship rings that were handed out before the game.
Rider had the chip on its shoulder.
Mike Ringgold and Novar Gadson scored 21 points each, and the Broncs pulled off the first big upset of the season, 88-74 over the No. 18 Bulldogs on Friday night.
“This is Rider,” Mississippi State forward Kodi Augustus said. “(We’re) preseason ranked No. 18 in the country. We’re not supposed to lose our first game, home opener. Wow. It’s crazy.”
The Bullogs started the season ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 2004, returning all five starters and picked to win the SEC Western Division.
But the Broncs, who return four starters from a squad that won 19 games, proved they’re just as talented and didn’t wilt after Mississippi State got off to a fast start.
Coach Rick Stansbury’s decisions during the game drew fire from Augustus, who expected to be a big factor for Mississippi State this season after repairing a fractious relationship with his coach last year. Augustus played just 15 minutes in the game.
“I talked to my dad,” Augustus said. “He said we got outcoached. I don’t know. But I looked at it, I only played 15 minutes the whole game. Yeah, I’m (upset), but like I said, I can’t do nothing about it. I played all those minutes the exhibition games and then you come and play me 15 minutes? Wow!”
Rider drove to the basket relentlessly and hit 62.5 percent of its 3-point shots to knock off lifeless Mississippi State on the night the Bulldogs (0-1) raised the banner from their 2008-09 SEC championship.
The Bulldogs had no zip and were clearly exhausted by the end of the first half, as the Broncs scored 18 points off 10 turnovers and took a 47-45 halftime lead they’d never give up.
Ryan Thompson scored 16 to lead Rider (1-0). Justin Robinson had 15 points and Gadson added 11 rebounds.
Jarvis Varnado led the Bulldogs with 22 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocked shots, but Mississippi State managed just 10 field goals in the second half.
“They were a little shellshocked early that we were able to compete with them,” Rider coach Tommy Dempsey said. “We didn’t feel like there was a big difference in our talent level and theirs.”
Varnado scored six straight points to open the game and helped the Bulldogs to an early 11-2 lead. But Rider put together a 15-5 run near the end of the first half and were challenged just once in the final 20 minutes, when Barry Stewart hit a 3-pointer and Varnado hit a short jumper midway through the second half to cut Rider’s lead to 60-55.
Thompson hit two 3s during an 11-3 run to give the Broncs a 12-point advantage that held up.
Rider also outrebounded the bigger Bulldogs and used 11 offensive boards to score 13 second-chance points.
Mississippi State was one-dimensional in both phases of the game, relying on Varnado—the nation’s leading shot blocker the last two seasons—to score on offense and stop the Broncs on defense. The center was able to redirect several shots, but Ringgold drove the lane without pause and Rider outscored Mississippi State 36-30 in the paint.
“He’s about the toughest kid I’ve ever coached,” Dempsey said. “We’ve won 42 games the past two years he’s been here and he’s a big reason why. You’ll never see fear in his eyes.”
Varnado took the blame for allowing Ringgold the run of the paint. He was obviously frustrated by Rider, at one point pointing to a scoreboard showing a 39-39 score and exhorting his teammates to play harder.
“That’s not like us,” Varnado said. “That’s not Mississippi State basketball. We didn’t play defense. They shot the ball real well and just killed us all the way around.”