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Tolu Smith III returns as Mississippi State tackles Bethune-Cookman

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Tolu Smith III nearly had a double-double in his return to game action, scoring 16 points and pulling down nine rebounds, and Dashawn Davis added 12 points as Mississippi State put a bow on 2023 with an 85-62 victory over Bethune-Cookman on Sunday in Starkville, Miss.

Josh Hubbard hit three 3-pointers on his way to 11 points, while Shakeel Moore scored 10 for the Bulldogs (11-2), who won their fifth in a row.

Jakobi Heady scored 16 points, Dhashon Dyson finished with 14 points and Derrick Carter-Hollinger Jr. chipped in 12 for the Wildcats (5-8), who will enter the new year on a four-game losing streak.

Smith shot 5-for-5 from the field and 6-for-7 at the foul line in his season debut. The preseason All-American suffered a foot injury during the offseason and came off the bench Sunday.

Mississippi State shook off an early 3-pointer by the Wildcats with a 14-1 run that saw the Bulldogs push their lead to double digits.

Shawn Jones Jr. and Davis hit back-to-back 3-pointers during the stretch before Smith knocked down a jumper for a 14-4 advantage with 14:28 to play.

Bethune-Cookman did itself no favors during the run as it went five minutes without a field goal before the drought ended on a dunk by Heady with 13:33 to play in the half, trimming the Wildcats’ deficit to 14-6.

Despite the tough start, Bethune-Cookman hung around and was within 25-18 with 6:03 to play, forcing four turnovers and holding the Bulldogs to no field goals over a stretch of three-plus minutes.

That all changed when Hubbard scored his first points of the day, drilling a 3-pointer that pushed Mississippi State in front 29-18 with 5:21 left. He was one of five Bulldogs to connect from the outside in the first 20 minutes of action.

Mississippi State closed the half on a 9-0 run to take a 41-22 lead into halftime, holding the Wildcats scoreless over the final three minutes and 49 seconds while forcing them to go 0-for-7 from the floor.

Dyson scored six points early in the first two minutes of the second half in an effort to help the Wildcats close the gap, but Moore hit a 3-pointer and then scored off a layup with 17:23 remaining to give the Bulldogs a 49-28 lead, their biggest at that point in the game.

–Field Level Media

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