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College basketball

Bulldogs' Austin a force in his return

©Associated Press
December 15, 2002

NEW YORK -- Mario Austin waited six games before he was allowed to play this season. It didn't take long for him to make his presence felt.

The 6-foot-9 junior forward had 28 points and nine rebounds in his season debut and No.24 Mississippi State kept winning with him in the lineup, beating No.13 Xavier 71-61 Saturday.

"After running up and down the court a few times I felt okay, but then I ran really hard on one break and got the pass, a reward for running hard, and I thought 'I'm back,"' he said.

Austin was held out while the NCAA cleared up questions about his eligibility when he was a freshman.

He was allowed to rejoin the team Tuesday, and the Bulldogs won their sixth straight as Austin outplayed Xavier's 6-9 forward David West.

"Obviously, Mario Austin is back," Xavier coach Thad Matta said. "What a show he put on today."

Austin was 12-for-21 from the field, including making his only 3-point attempt, and played 32 minutes.

"I didn't come out with any numbers in mind," Austin said. "I just wanted to fit in and help us win. It just so happened I took shots and they went in."

Austin, who averaged 16.1 points and 7.6 rebounds last season, was four points off his career high, set last season against Kentucky.

Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury brought up the 3-pointer, the team's first points of the second half, as the moment he knew his star was back.

"When he took that 3-pointer I knew he was Mario again," Stansbury said, laughing.

Mississippi State took control early and held on in the final two minutes.

West, a two-time Atlantic 10 player of the year and the leading vote-getter on the AP preseason All-America team, had two points in the first as the Musketeers fell behind 33-15. He finished with 13, 6.7 below his average, and 17 rebounds -- almost double his 9.5 average.

"They did a great job of scouting us," West said. "They knew our offense better than we did. We only had 15 points at halftime. We just couldn't get the offense going. They were playing a lot harder than we were."

Mississippi State used a 19-2 run in the first to take a 19-6 lead. The Musketeers missed 13 of 14 shots during the run and turned the ball over six times. The Bulldogs later went on a 10-2 run to take their biggest lead of the half at 23-12.

Xavier was 7-for-30 from the field in the first and missed all eight of its 3-point attempts. Mississippi State was 15-for-29, including 3-for-7 from beyond the arc.

"In the first half the kids stepped to another level with Mario back, and his presence meant so much defensively," Stansbury said. "Our kids did a great job of getting ready for one of the better teams in the country."

The Musketeers used a 13-0 run to get to 57-45 with 8:02 left. They cut the lead to single digits with 5:31 to play on a rebound basket by West that made it 61-52, then got to 67-58 at 1:33 on a basket by Lionel Chalmers. But the Bulldogs scored four to put it away.

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