STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Mississippi State's back in the national rankings for the first time in nearly two years.
Do-everything freshman Rodney Hood is a big reason why.Dee Bost scored 21 points, Hood added a career-high 20 and No. 24 Mississippi State beat Louisiana-Monroe 78-63 on Monday night at Humphrey Coliseum.While Bost has been a productive starter for four seasons, Hood's emergence has helped push the Bulldogs back into national prominence. The 6-foot-8 guard from Meridian, Miss., has scored at least 10 points in five of the first six games.Playing against Louisiana-Monroe's zone defense, he shot 9 of, including 2 of 4 from 3-point range while also adding eight rebounds and two steals."He made great adjustments," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "He was really good in the middle of that zone. I told him I think I found another guy I can play in that zone."Stansbury has routinely said that Hood has a basketball maturity that's beyond his years, and the lanky, athletic guard didn't flinch even as the Warhawks constantly switched their defensive alignment. He looked equally comfortable taking the ball to the basket or shooting 3-pointers, always seeming to find an open space on the floor."I like playing in the middle of that zone," Hood said. "I like attacking like that."Brian Bryant added 17 points and 10 rebounds for his first career double-double.The Bulldogs (5-1) struggled early against the winless Warhawks (0-5), trailing in the second half before DeVille Smith hit a 3-pointer with 13:55 remaining to give Mississippi State a 42-41 lead. That sparked a 12-0 run that included back-to-back dunks by Bryant and a 3-pointer by Hood.The Bulldogs shot 31 of 61 (50.8 percent) from the field. Bryant said there was no panic early, even when the Warhawks took a 23-15 lead with 8:20 remaining in the first half."We knew our offense would come," Bryant said. "The game is all about runs. We get our runs and they get theirs. We just had to finish with more runs than they did."Mississippi State was playing without starting forwards Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie. Stansbury said Sidney has a hand injury while Moultrie is battling tendinitis in his knees.Without Sidney and Moultrie -- who are 6-10 and 6-11, respectively -- the Bulldogs were a very different team, settling mostly for outside jumpers. They hit enough of them to win, making 10 of 27 (37 percent) from 3-point range."We knew it was going to be a struggle a little bit for several reasons," Stansbury said. "We were down a couple players and Louisiana-Monroe is a team that makes you guard them."Moultrie is averaging 15.2 points and 11.2 rebounds per game while Sidney is averaging eight points and 3.8 rebounds. Stansbury said Moultrie could have played if the game was close and that both players could return for Friday's game against Tennessee Martin.Mississippi State stretched its lead to as much as 20 points in the second half on the way to its fourth straight win.Fred Brown led ULM with 21 points. He shot 7 of 12 from the field, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range. Marcelis Hansberry added 13 points. The Warhawks shot 25 of 51 (49 percent) from the field.-----Follow David Brandt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP