Mississippi State’s Rick Ray admits that his team is playing its best basketball of late.
But other coaches around the Southeastern Conference are starting to take notice as well.
Kentucky’s John Calipari and Ole Miss’ Andy Kennedy complimented the Bulldogs improvement on the SEC Coaches’ Teleconference on Monday. So did Donnie Tyndall, who coaches MSU’s opponent at 6 p.m. tonight Tennessee.
“Mississippi State is probably the most improved team in our league from the first week in conference play until here at the midseason point,” Tyndall said. “Rick’s done a good job. Those guys are flying around and playing extremely hard. It looks like they’re playing with a lot of confidence and certainly have improved.”
The Bulldogs (10-11, 3-5) have won three of their last six games and have been in every outing until the end. Now MSU gets a chance to gauge just how far it has come facing the Volunteers for a second time.
The two teams opened conference play on Jan. 7 with Tennessee claiming a 61-47 victory in Starkville.
The Vols (13-7, 5-3) knocked down 10 3-pointers in the previous outing and were led by junior guard Kevin Punter, who scored a game-high 15 points.
Junior forward Gavin Ware was the only Bulldog to score in double figures with 12 in 25 minutes off the bench. State got to the free throw line 44 times but converted only 24 points from the charity stripe.
“We won that game by 14 but they missed 20 free throws,” Tyndall said. “So that score was not indicative of really how close that game was or could have been. They’re physical, can rebound it and guard you. I think they’re a very good team and it just happened to be our night. We were fortunate they missed some free throws or it could’ve been a different ball game.”
The Bulldogs are coming off possibly Ray’s biggest win during his three-year tenure, a 73-67 home victory over LSU on Saturday. The win snapped a two-game skid which Mississippi State led Georgia by as many as eight points and Ole Miss by 13 points only to come up short in the end.
“I thought our guys had really played well against Georgia and Ole Miss but just hadn’t been rewarded with a win,” Ray said. “I thought it was really beneficial for our guys psyche to continue to go through the process and end up getting rewarded with a win.”
Tennessee snapped a two-game skid of its own with a 71-63 home win against Auburn on Saturday. The Volunteers are 10-2 at Thompson-Boling Arena this season.
Senior guard Josh Richardson leads Tennessee averaging 15.6 points per game.