Many had given up on Mississippi State after starting the year 7-9 with losses to the likes of Arkansas State, USC Upstate and McNeese State along the way.
But Rick Ray‘s Bulldogs continued to persevere through the tough times and are now playing their best basketball. MSU is 4-2 over the past month including back-to-back wins against LSU and Tennessee, which are the top during Ray’s three-year tenure in Starkville.
“Our guys have steadily stayed the course,” Ray said. “I give a lot of credit to our team. A lot of people would have pitched it in and gave up after we started the SEC season. But to those guys credit and character, they continued to do the things that we asked them to do in order to become a better team.”
The Bulldogs (11-11, 4-5) will try to string together three straight conference wins for the first time since the 2010-11 season traveling to Arkansas at 3 p.m. today on the SEC Network. State has won its last two road outings including the 71-66 victory at Tennessee on Tuesday.
Craig Sword has been the catalyst for the Bulldogs resurgence. The junior guard is averaging 18 points over his last five games including 27 points against Ole Miss and 26 against the Vols.
Sword missed Mississippi State’s first four games coming off offseason back surgery and had to work his way back into basketball shape as the year has progressed.
“Chicken is one of the toughest kids I’ve ever coached,” Ray said. “He goes out there and gives effort every single time whether it be in practice or games.”
Sophomore point guard I.J. Ready also endured the same back surgery but has also been key in the comeback. Ready has scored in double figures in seven of his last eight games and is a perfect 18-of-18 from the charity stripe in league play.
Today Ready returns to his hometown of Little Rock to face the Razorbacks.
“I’m more anxious to play them because that’s where I’m from,” Ready said. “But I try to go play my hardest whenever we go play anybody.”
Ready scored seven points, had three steals and dished out two assists in a 73-69 loss to Arkansas in Starkville last season.
The Razorbacks enter today’s contest at 17-5 overall and 6-3 in SEC play. Mike Anderson‘s squad has won four of its last five games including a 75-55 home win against South Carolina on Tuesday.
Sophomore forward Bobby Portis leads the conference in scoring at17.7 points and is averaging a double-double in league play.
Junior guard Michael Qualls (17.2 ppg) is questionable for today’s game with a sprained knee suffered late in Tuesday’s game.