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It's only six games into the season, but the BYU basketball team has already been severely tested. There hasn't been a single Lewis-Clark, Cal State Stanislaus, Prairie View A&M or L.A. Clippers on the Cougar schedule.

With the exception of a lopsided loss to Utah State in Logan last week, BYU has been earning better than passing grades.Tuesday's worthy foe, Mississippi State of the Southeastern Conference, gave BYU a crash course in fending off a comeback. The Cougars led by 10 points midway through the second half, but saw the lead evaporate. Still, they maintained enough composure in the end to pull out a 74-68 overtime victory.

"We showed a lot of poise down the stretch," BYU coach Roger Reid said.

"Being able to win a game that went down to the wire like that has got to help us when we get into a similar situation later in the year," Cougar forward Russell Larson said.

No. 24 BYU improved to 4-2 with the victory, while Mississippi State dropped to 3-1.

BYU has faced tough competition like Oklahoma State, Louisville, Minnesota and Utah State already this year, but Mississippi State ranks right up with the best of them according to the Cougs.

"(Mississippi State) is as good of a team as we've played," said BYU center Kenneth Roberts.

"I've been here a lot of years - 17 - and I don't know that we have ever started out with a tougher schedule than we have this year," Reid said. "We've hung in there. I know WAC teams will be tense and tough, but I don't think we will play a team that has any better talent or is any better than the team we played tonight."

After a sloppy, defensive first half - both teams were shooting around 30 percent from the floor - BYU led 26-23 at intermission. The Bulldogs took their first lead of the game on a Jay Walton drive, 35-33, with 16:40 to play. Roberts and Robbie Reid led the Cougars on a 16-4 run to give BYU a 49-39 advantage with 11:46 remaining, however.

Mississippi State, on the final day of a week-long, three-game western road trip, scored eight consecutive points to pull within two with 9:23 to play and the seesaw battled down the stretch ensued.

BYU led 66-63, but a 3-point jumper by Marcus Grant knotted the game with one minute to play. Neither team could convert on chances to break the deadlock, forcing overtime.

Roberts scored BYU's first four points in the extra period, on a outside shot and on a putback, which was all the scoring the Cougs would need. Larson and Robbie Reid added a pair of free throws apiece to clinch the victory.

Roberts finished as the team's leading scorer for the third straight game, this time with 22 points. The junior center also pulled down 10 boards and did a nice defensive job on the Bulldogs' star center Erick Dampier, who had no points at halftime and just nine for the game. Larson grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds and scored 21 points while point guard Robbie Reid had 12 points and eight boards and his brother and fellow guard Randy Reid added 10 points.

Rebounding and foul shooting were major factors for BYU. The Cougars made 19-21 free throws (88.2 percent) in the second half and overtime and they outrebounded the Bulldogs 48-32 for the game.

"We just didn't get enough rebounds and that was the key to the game," Mississippi State coach Richard Williams said.

Bulldog point guard T.J. Honore led his team with 19 points. He made 5-of-8 from three-point range.

BYU will next be in action against Southern Utah Friday in the second game of the annual Cougar Classic at 7:30 p.m. The first game Friday night will pit Northwestern State against South Alabama at 5:30.

GAME NOTES - The paid attendance was 17,177, but the actual crowd was more like 11,000 . . . It was the first meeting between BYU and Mississippi State on the basketball court, but the teams will see each other again next year - only the game will be played in Starksville, Mississippi . . . Mark Durrant got an assist to himself off the back of a Bulldog player on an out-of-bounds play under the Cougar bucket in the second half . . . With Craig Wilcox still nursing a sore knee and only playing one minute, both Reid brothers had to be ironmen Tuesday, playing 41 minutes each. Larson avoided a recent spate of foul trouble to log 41 minutes as well.