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Mississippi State men’s basketball falls to Liberty

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MSU falls to 0-2.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - San Jose Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

MELBOURNE, Fla. — Redshirt sophomore guard D.J. Stewart Jr. and redshirt sophomore forward Tolu Smith both notched 20 points in Thursday’s consolation game of the Space Coast Challenge hosted by Eastern Florida State College, but it wasn’t enough, as Mississippi State dropped an 84-73 contest to the Liberty Flames.

It’s the first time Mississippi State has started a season 0-2 since 1967.

Smith also led the team with seven rebounds.

Redshirt senior forward Abdul Ado added 14 points on 5-for-5 shooting from the field and a perfect 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.

Freshman point guard Deivon Smith knocked down both of his 3-pointers and finished with 10 points, five assists and five rebounds.

As a team, the Bulldogs shot 27-for-47 (57.4%) from the field, including 4 of 10 from 3-point range. The Flames (1-1) shot 28-for-53 (52.8%), including a staggering 19-for-39 (48.7%) from beyond the arc.

Liberty set a program record with its 19 made 3-pointers.

The Bulldogs outrebounded Liberty 29-17.

Liberty junior guard Darius McGhee scored 23 points and made a career-high seven 3-pointers. Senior combo guard Elijah Cuffee added 17 points and five 3-pointers.

The Flames jumped out to a seven-point lead at 15-8 with 16:18 left in the first half. The Bulldogs then scored seven unanswered points to tie the game at 15-15 with 14:39 left.

The squads traded baskets the rest of the half until going to the halftime break with MSU holding a 41-40 lead.

The Flames opened the second half with a 3-pointer to take a 43-41 lead and wound up keeping the momentum going, growing their lead to 11 points at 53-42 with 16:15 to play.

A pair of free throws by Tolu Smith cut the deficit to five points at 68-63 with 5:18 to play, but Liberty grew its lead back to double-digits at 78-68 with 2:32 left in the game.

State cut it to single-digits one more time before ultimately falling by 11 at 84-73.

The Bulldogs return to action Monday when they host Texas State at Humphrey Coliseum. Tip time is set for 7 p.m. CT and will be televised by SEC Network.