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FAU falls to No. 17 Mississippi State 75-68

Mississippi State guard Rodney Hood (4) hits a basket past Florida Atlantic forward Jordan McCoy (21) in the first half of their NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011. Mississippi State guard Rodney Hood (4) hits a basket past Florida Atlantic forward Jordan McCoy (21) in the first half of their NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
By David Brandt
AP Sports Writer / December 14, 2011
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STARKVILLE, Miss.—Coach Mike Jarvis is pleased his Florida Atlantic team put itself in a position to pull off an upset Tuesday night. He's equally disappointed the Owls didn't take advantage of the opportunity.

Florida Atlantic fought back from a 10-point halftime deficit to take a lead late in the second half, but couldn't hold on in a 75-68 loss to No. 17 Mississippi State.

"We turned the ball over a few times unnecessarily and then we missed some free throws," Jarvis said. "That's a pretty deadly combination against a top 20 team on the road."

The Bulldogs had a comfortable 39-29 lead at halftime, but the Owls clawed their way back into the game, taking a 55-54 lead on Pablo Bertone's 3-pointer with 9:22 remaining. Mississippi State fought off the rally, with Dee Bost and Rodney Hood scoring a combined 24 second-half points on the way to the team's ninth straight victory.

Bost led all scorers with 22 points while Hood added 19.

"Those guys weren't going to let us lose," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "Dee and Rodney willed us to win tonight."

Jalen Steele scored 12 points for the Bulldogs and Renardo Sidney added 10.

"We had to go and do it -- that's what I'm proud of." Stansbury said. "There are games on the schedule that you've got to find a way to win and that was one of them."

Raymond Taylor had 20 points for Florida Atlantic (4-6) while Bertone scored 14 and Kore White added 12.

Mississippi State (10-1) was playing without two starters -- guard Brian Bryant and forward Arnett Moultrie. Bryant missed a third straight game for a violation of team rules while Moultrie, who averages 17 points and 11 rebounds, missed the game because of knee tendinitis. Moultrie's absence was the most significant and the Bulldogs obviously missed his production.

The weakened lineup made the game strikingly similar to last year, when a banged-up Mississippi State team lost a stunner to Florida Atlantic 61-59. Bost didn't play because he was suspended after failing to pull his name out of the NBA draft by the deadline.

But the Bulldogs seemed in control of this one early. Hood had 10 points in the first half while Steele and Bost added seven each.

Florida Atlantic made its move early in the second half, quickly closing the gap to 41-39 on Greg Gantt's 3-pointer with 17:23 remaining. The Owls took a 60-58 lead on Taylor's 3-pointer with 6:50 remaining. The 5-foot-6 Taylor was tough on the Bulldogs all night, shooting 7 of 13 from the field including 4 of 7 from 3-point range.

That's when Bost and Hood took over. Bost hit shots from all over the court, including 3-pointers, layups on fast breaks and free throws. And when he seemed to tire, it was Hood who was clutch with a few mid-range jumpers that kept the Owls at arm's length.

"I know they're not going to let Dee drive the lane in SEC play so I feel like I've got to go out there and be that missing link," Hood said.

Hood finished with his first career double-double, adding 10 rebounds. He shot 8 of 14 from the field.

"He didn't just go into the gym when he was a kid and work on 3-pointers and dunks," Stansbury said. "He was taught the finer points of the game."

Mississippi State shot 50 percent (27 of 54) from the field.

Even so, Florida Atlantic was within striking distance until the final seconds. Jarvis said it's a good lesson for his team.

"You make baskets, you make stops, put two or three of those together and that is what makes any lead," Jarvis said. "We just don't do it often enough to come on top in the end."

Mississippi State ended its six-game homestand undefeated, but now hits a harder part of its schedule. The Bulldogs play a road game against Detroit on Saturday before a neutral-court game against Northwestern State in Jackson, Miss., on Dec. 22. Then there's a showdown with No. 6 Baylor on Dec. 28 in Dallas.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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