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Dogs back to basics

By By Tony Krausz/assistant sports editor
March 20, 2004
ORLANDO, Fla. Mississippi State University had come under fire heading into the opening round of the NCAA tournament against the Monmouth Hawks for not playing with the same pizzazz as it had during its 25-win season.
The Bulldogs returned to the things that scored the program its first outright regular-season basketball Southeastern Conference championship in 41 years on Friday n rebounding and defense.
MSU outrebounded Monmouth 47-20, including a 13-rebound performance on the offensive end of the court. The Hawks only got three offensive rebounds.
The Bulldogs also clamped down on defense, coming up with 12 steals and forcing 17 Hawk turnovers. MSU turned the turnovers into 31 points.
Roberts with a twist
SEC Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year Lawrence Roberts may not have practiced the week leading up to MSU's first-round game against Monmouth, but the Bulldog forward still found away to add a new twist to his game.
Roberts, who was held out of practice after injuring his ankle against Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament, tallied his first six points against the Hawks in unlikely fashion n from long range.
The transfer from Baylor, who had attempted 35 three-point shots this year (making nine), hit a pair of treys for his first points of the game.
Coming home
Monmouth's Tyler Azzarelli's career-high 18-point performance in the Northeast Conference tournament championship game didn't just help the Hawks earn their third berth ever into the NCAA tournament it also brought the point guard back to his home state.
The 6-foot-1 sophomore grew up in Tampa, Fla., were he played at H.B. Plant High School.
Azzarelli's home-state connections helped the New Jersey 3,500-student university rally some supporters to come to the TD Waterhouse Centre.
The guard said his mother, Martha, helped arrange tickets for about 90 friends and family members to watch the Hawks take on MSU on Friday.
At the line
South Carolina State entered Friday's game against Louisiana-Lafayette as the best free throw shooting team in the nation. The Wolfpack knocked down 79.8 percent of its shots at the charity stripe this season.
S.C. State didn't let playing in the tournament slow down its proficiency at the line. The Wolfpack hit 20-of-24 free throws against Louisiana-Lafayette in a 61-52 win.
Near misses
Vanderbilt didn't have the easiest of times getting past Western Michigan on Friday.
The Commodores, who trailed the Broncos 34-31 at the break, struggled mightily at the free-throw line.
Vanderbilt hit only 8-of-18 shots at the charity stripe, much to the chagrin of coach Kevin Stallings.
The Commodores made up for their poor performance at the line by lighting up the scoreboard from behind the arc.
Vanderbilt knocked down 11 three-pointers to score a 71-58 win over Western Michigan.
Nod to the band
MSU's band got the nod from arena officials to play the national anthem before the start of the Bulldogs' game against the Monmouth Hawks.

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