Mississippi State’s non-conference slate was reminiscent a rollercoaster ride enjoying highs with wins over quality teams such as Utah State, St. Louis and Florida State.
But the Bulldogs managed just a 7-6 record enduring lowly losses to the likes of Arkansas State, USC Upstate and McNeese State along the way.
Tonight MSU begins the Southeastern Conference portion of its schedule hosting Tennessee at 7 p.m. The Bulldogs do so coming off a 62-55 upset over Florida State on Friday behind 14 points from sophomore point guard I.J. Ready, tying a career-high.
State is 45-36 in SEC openers and 30-16 when it starts league play at home. It will be the seventh time the Bulldogs have opened with Tennessee splitting the previous meetings 3-3.
The Volunteers lead the all-time series 78-41 and have claimed nine of the last 12 including all three outings against Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray. The series is however tied at 27 in games played in Starkville.
Tennessee won 75-68 at Humphrey Coliseum last year behind a 29 point performance from Jordan McRae. Roquez Johnson, now a senior forward, paced the Bulldogs with 19 points.
Ray’s team is shooting 43.6-percent from the field and averaging 61.5 points per game. MSU is hitting 26.5-percent behind the 3-point arc and 73.1-percent from the free throw stripe. The Bulldogs are outrebounding their opponents by 6.2 allowing 57.8 points on 41-percent shooting.
Junior wing Travis Daniels leads State’s starters scoring 7.5 points an outing. Ready adds 6.7 points and 1.7 assists while junior shooting guard Craig Sword is chipping in 4.1 points.
Freshman forwards Fallou Ndoye and Oliver Black are starting in the paint for the Bulldogs. Ndoye is putting up four points and pulling down 2.5 rebounds while Black is contributing 2.3 points and boards.
All three of Mississippi State’s leading scorers on the year came off the bench against Florida State. Johnson and junior guard Fred Thomas are tied for the team scoring lead at 10.8 while junior forward Gavin Ware is close behind at 10.4 points.
Senior guard Trivante Bloodman is six points shy of reaching 500 for his career.
Tennessee comes into tonight’s contest at 8-4 having won four straight. The Vols knocked off East Tennessee State 71-61 at home on New Year’s Eve. Senior guard Josh Richardson (6-6, 200) led the way for Tennessee with 19 points.
The Volunteers are in their first year under former Southern Miss head coach Donnie Tyndall. Tyndall’s team is shooting 44.9-percent from the floor and scoring 66.3 points. Tennessee is knocking down 34.7-percent of its shots from the outside and 65.5-percent from the charity stripe. The Vols are outrebounding their opposition by 1.1 surrendering 64.2 points on 41.7-percent shooting.
Richardson tops the team averaging 16.5 points. He is joined in the backcourt by juniors Kevin Punter (6-4, 180) and Devon Baulkman (6-5, 200) scoring 10.5 and 5.6 points respectively.
Junior forward Armani Moore (6-5, 215) is putting up 9.8 points and grabbing 6.9 boards while freshman forward Willie Carmichael III (6-8, 210) chips in 4.8 points and 3.2 rebounds.
Tonight’s game will be televised on the SEC Network with Mike Morgan and Barry Booker on the call.