NASHVILLE, Tenn., – Mississippi State will open the 2015 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena hoping to prolong its season.
The 12th-seeded Bulldogs only hope of reaching the postseason is through an automatic bid by winning the SEC Tournament. MSU would have to win all five of its games in the tournament starting with today’s 6 p.m. match-up with No. 13 seed Auburn on the SEC Network.
“When you go into the SEC Tournament, everybody is 0-0,” said MSU coach Rick Ray. “Every young man grows up wanting to play in the NCAA Tournament and for us in our situation the only way to turn that dream into a reality is to win the SEC Tournament. That should be inspiration enough.”
The Bulldogs (13-18, 6-12) have been able to find success on the opening day during Ray’s first two trips to the SEC Tournament. State downed South Carolina 70-59 in Nashville in 2013 and also Vanderbilt 82-68 in Atlanta last year.
The Bulldogs would however bow out in the second round in each of those seasons to Tennessee and Ole Miss respectively. The goal this year is to advance beyond the second round, where fifth-seeded Texas A&M awaits the winner on Thursday.
“You want to see some progression where we go from winning the first game and also the second game,” Ray said. “That would show some progression of where the program is headed. But for us the first step is beating an Auburn team that is more than capable of beating us.”
Mississippi State won the regular season battle 78-71 at Auburn on Jan. 21 behind a career-high 18 points from point guard I.J. Ready and a double-double from forward Gavin Ware with 16 points and 17 rebounds.
“I thought we were able to handle their press fairly well,” Ray said. “Our guys did a good job of throwing the ball over the top and attacking. We want to be in attack mode when teams press you and I thought our guys made smart decisions when they were attacking.”
The Bulldogs led by as many as 18 points in the second half of that contest before Auburn (12-19, 4-14) pulled within two following a 14-2 run in the waning minutes. Cinmeon Bowers also had 16 points and 17 boards for the Tigers.
“I was really impressed with Mississippi State’s roster and the way they defended when we first played them,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl. “They really guarded us and had us down 18 at our place in the second half on a couple different occasions. We managed to get it down to two but it was a scramble to do it. They didn’t just beat us, they dominated us.”
MSU is 2-1 against Auburn in the SEC Tournament with tonight being the first meeting between the twin state programs since 1996.