STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) -- Lawrence Roberts lost his pesky mask and regained his scoring touch.
Roberts scored 21 of his season-high 27 points in the first half to lead Mississippi State (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 22 AP) to an 83-53 rout of Arkansas-Little Rock on Saturday night.It was his first full game without the clear, plastic mask he wore for several games to protect a broken nose, though he had previously removed it several times out of frustration."When you're playing with something in the back of your mind, you're not playing to your full potential," Roberts said. "So when I got it off, it's a big breath of relief."The preseason All-American and reigning Southeastern Conference player of the year bounced back from a poor performance against 15th-ranked Arizona with his biggest game of the season.Roberts broke his nose last month during a preseason practice. Doctors told him he was healthy enough to shed the mask, and Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said he noticed an immediate difference in Roberts' play."You look at those stats tonight, he's a more energetic guy out there right from the get-go," Stansbury said.Roberts scored the Bulldogs' first 10 points and then keyed a 21-0 spurt late in the half that helped Mississippi State (7-2) seize control against Arkansas-Little Rock (4-4).The Trojans got just six points from leading scorer Brandon Freeman -- nearly 10 below his average.By halftime, Roberts surpassed his previous season high of 20 points, set last month against Saint Mary's."We tried to (double-team) him, and we let him loose a couple of times," Arkansas-Little Rock coach Steve Shields said. "He's a great player, and you can't give him angles like that."Held to seven points last week in a 68-64 loss to Arizona, Roberts dominated the outmanned Trojans almost from the tip-off.Arkansas-Little Rock was determined to lull the transition-minded Bulldogs into a slower pace, but Mississippi State used pressure defense to prevent that from happening."We made them do things I think they weren't comfortable doing," Stansbury said. "They weren't comfortable playing against the pressure we were putting them under. We were really making them run in transition."Mississippi State used a 15-4 run midway through the half to take the lead for good and then scored 21 straight points bridging the halftime to push its lead permanently into double figures.Zack Wright led Arkansas-Little Rock with 15 points, and Darius Eason had 12. Freeman made just two of 10 shots.Mississippi State's leading scorer, Winsome Frazier, who averages 14.8 points, had just five.Mississippi State led 42-24 at halftime, outrebounded the smaller Trojans 55-23 and shot 47 percent.