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Bulldogs men’s basketball opens season with 53-42 loss to Clemson

Bulldogs fall to 0-1.

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

MELBOURNE, Fla. — The Mississippi State men’s basketball team opened the 2020-21 season with a 53-42 loss to Clemson Wednesday night in the opening round of the 2020 Space Coast Challenge from Titan Field House on the Eastern Florida State College campus.

The Mississippi State offense struggled, which is to be expected when you lose four starters from a year ago. State was also without sophomore guard Iverson Molinar, who did not make the trip for an undisclosed, non-disciplinary reason.

The Bulldogs shot 15-for-50 (30.0%) from the field in the game. The Tigers were not much better, shooting 19-for-54 (35.2%).

MSU also shot just 8 of 27 (29.6%) from the free-throw line. Clemson made 10 of 15 from the charity stripe. So, MSU missed 21 free throws. The Bulldogs had almost as many turnovers, too. They finished with 19.

Offensively, the Bulldogs were led by redshirt sophomore guard D.J. Stewart Jr. and redshirt sophomore forward Tolu Smith, who both finished with 12 points. Smith, a transfer from Western Kentucky, scored six of his 12 points in the first 10 minutes and finished with 10 rebounds for his first double-double with MSU.

A pair of true freshmen in combo guard Cameron Matthews and point guard Deivon Smith got the start for MSU. They finished with eight points and two points, respectively.

The Bulldogs started the season strong, taking a quick 7-0 lead. The Tigers then tied things up at 11-11 with 9:14 left in the first half.

Clemson then scored six unanswered points to take a 17-11 lead with 6:30 to play. MSU would claw back to within four points at 20-16 with 3:17 to go, but that’s as close as the Bulldogs would get before heading to the halftime break down 26-19.

The Bulldogs drew within five points at 33-28 on senior forward Jalen Johnson’s 3-pointer from the corner with 15:31 left in the game. However, Clemson would extend its lead back to double-digits with a 42-30 score with 11:44 to play.

MSU used a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to nine points at 46-37 with 6:46 remaining, but the Bulldogs could not get any closer than nine, falling 53-42.

State will play Liberty on Thursday in the consolation game at 5 p.m. CT. The Bulldogs lost to the Flames in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. Liberty dropped a 77-64 contest to Purdue in the first game of the four-team tournament. It will be televised by CBS College Sports Network.