Earlier this week Mississippi State coach Rick Ray boasted that his team would not be intimidated going into Kentucky’s Rupp Arena to open Southeastern Conference play.
It turned out to be more than just a claim as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 12-2 lead over the 14th-ranked Wildcats and led by three at halftime.
But UK proved to be too deep and too talented to overcome as MSU fell 85-63 on Wednesday night.
“I thought we played our best basketball of the year I’d say the first 27 minutes of the game,” Ray said. “It was about 13 minutes left and we were down three at Kentucky. Then the same old bugaboo reared its ugly head and we just didn’t handle adversity very well. I told our guys it’s a shame people are going to see that final score and think it was a blowout the whole way.”
Although the Bulldogs were outscored by 25 points in the second half, Ray made sure to commend his team on the positive work they did early on as well.
“You’ve got to let your guys feel good about some of the things they did well,” Ray said. “And the fact that they went out and competed against a Top 25 team in the country and a team that was picked to win the SEC at their place with only eight scholarship guys, undermanned and undersized – as long as they play as a team and follow the game plan they’ll always have a chance to win.”
But State will not be able to pout about its lackluster second half on the Bluegrass. The Bulldogs have its SEC home opener on Saturday against its biggest rival.
“We’ve got to lick our wounds and get ready for Ole Miss,” Ray said.
Mississippi State did just that holding a shoot around and walk through on Thursday before having a “good, hard practice” on Friday afternoon.
Saturday’s contest will tipoff at 3:05 p.m. on ESPNU. Ray is hoping for a hostile crowd in Humphrey Coliseum even though the spring semester does not begin until Monday and the students are still on break.
Last year Ray petitioned the students to pack the stands for the basketball version of the Egg Bowl even though the Bulldogs were in the midst of a 13-game losing skid. A crowd of 5,853 saw MSU upset the Rebels 73-67 which became one of the signature wins in Ray’s rookie season.
“I think it’s really a shame that we’re playing our rival when the students aren’t here,” Ray said. “Not just for Mississippi State but for every school in the SEC, when you’re playing your rival the students need to be there. At the end of the day, those are the guys that really bring a lot of life and energy to the ball game.
“I think we were on a 13-game losing streak when we got that win over Ole Miss last year. The way the student body and community came out and supported us against Ole Miss, it really meant a lot. I’d be lying to you if I told you our guys didn’t notice it as well. Hopefully we’ll get a good crowd.”
Ole Miss (10-4, 1-0) will be without the services of its scoring machine Marshall Henderson, who is serving the final game of a three-game suspension handed down during the summer.
The Rebels will turn to junior guard Jarvis Summers to help fill in some of the offensive gap with the loss of Henderson. Summers is averaging 17.5 points while shooting 53-percent from both the field and 3-point line.
“Jarvis Summers is a really good basketball player,” Ray said. “His stat line is phenomenal. He’s shooting so well from the 3-point line. You could arguably say he’s the most improved player in the SEC.”
Ray is also having to scramble around to find someone to pick up the slack left behind by the midyear transfer of redshirt freshman wing Dre Applewhite. Sophomore Fred Thomas moved back into the starting role but was spelled by redshirt freshman Jacoby Davis against Kentucky.
Davis logged 14 minutes off the bench scoring four points on 2-of-4 shooting as well as dishing out three assists and grabbing a rebound.
“He’s really a point guard so he doesn’t really have the size to be out there guarding wings,” Ray said. “I was really worried about Kentucky’s size but I though he did a good job with those minutes that he earned. We’ve got to continue to throw him in the fire and see how he reacts.”