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Updated: Saturday, December 14, 2002 5:23 PM EST
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(22) Mississippi St 71, (11) Xavier 61
Xavier (OH) Musketeers
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NEW YORK (Ticker) -- Mario Austin couldn't have scripted a better return.

Austin turned in a spectacular season debut with 20 of his 28 points in the second half as No. 22 Mississippi State built a huge early lead before posting a 71-61 victory over 11th-ranked Xavier at Madison Square Garden.

"I just wanted to get in the flow of the game and work hard," Austin said. "I just wanted to do the little things to help us win. It just so happened that everything I shot went in, just about."

Austin missed the first six games for Mississippi State (6-1) as the NCAA looked into his eligibility. He was cleared to play earlier in the week and made 12-of-21 shots, grabbed nine rebounds and fared better than Xavier All-American candidate David West.

"We're very excited about having him back," Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury said. "I wasn't sure what to expect out of him. Having his presence meant something."

"It's obvious Mario is back," Xavier coach Thad Matta said. "What a show he put on for us today."

West, on the other hand, struggled to make just 4-of-13 shots for 13 points and 17 rebounds. He was defended primarily by Michal Ignerski as well as Austin and found little room to operate all game.

"They played at an entirely different level that we played at," West said. "I don't know what you can blame it on. They kicked our butts."

Xavier (5-2) scored the game's first four points before Mississippi State took control with a 21-4 run in which Austin and Timmy Bowers each scored six.

The Musketeers continued to flounder on offense as they managed just seven baskets in the first half and trailed at intermission, 33-15.

Xavier scored the first eight points of the second half to draw within 10 before Austin nailed a 3-pointer, converted a layup and threw home a resounding dunk before mugging for the cameras.

"You've gotta have fun out there playing," Austin said.

Mississippi State took its largest lead at 57-32 on a tip-in by Ontario Harper with just under 12 minutes left. Xavier scored the next 13 points to get within 12 points.

West's layup pulled the Musketeers to 61-52 with 5:28 to go. Ignerski made a pair at the line, Austin had a layup and Bowers threw home a vicious slam in a 6-1 run that gave Mississippi State a 67-53 cushion.

Bowers netted 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting and Ignerski chipped in 10 for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs held a 43-41 edge on the glass.

Xavier shooting guard Romain Sato was harassed into 2-of-10 shooting and missed all eight 3-pointers. The Musketeers were just 5-of-24 from beyond the arc.

"We have established some more guys who can defend and rebound," Stansbury said. "Our team takes a lot of pride in our defense."

Dedrick Finn nailed four 3-pointers for 12 points and Anthony Myles netted 11 for Xavier.

However, the game turned out to be a another lost opportunity for the Musketeers, who lost at Stanford in the second round of the Preseason NIT, denying them a pair of marquee games in New York.

"This is another top-20 team that we've played and for whatever reason, we didn't come to play," Matta said. "I think Mississippi State had a lot to do with that."

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