Following three straight losing seasons under Rick Ray, Mississippi State is ready to start anew.
The Bulldogs official open the Ben Howland era against Eastern Washington at 8:05 p.m. tonight on SEC Network as part of a doubleheader with their women’s basketball team.
“This year we’re not taking anybody lightly,” said MSU junior guard I.J. Ready. “We have a point to prove. We haven’t been very successful in the last few years so every team that we play we’re treating like an SEC game.”
MSU went 13-19 season but returns four senior starters including three-time leading scorer Craig Sword. Sword paced the Bulldogs with 11.3 points per game last year.
The Bulldogs also welcome talented true freshman point guard Malik Newman to the fold. Newman is a former McDonald’s All-American but has been battling turf toe in his left foot and had a cast removed on Tuesday.
“He hasn’t practiced in over two weeks so to throw him out there for any major minutes would be inappropriate and reckless on our part,” Howland said. “My biggest concern is the big picture of the season. I don’t want to rush him back and have him re-injure his toe.”
State has been successful in defeating UAB in a closed door scrimmage and Fort Valley State 95-56 in an exhibition game already this preseason.
Tonight marks the first ever meeting between MSU and Eastern Washington.
The Eagles are coming off their best season at the Division I level going 26-9, winning the Big Sky Conference and advancing to the NCAA Tournament.
“They shoot a lot of 3’s,” Howland said. “It’s like playing a very skilled, Euro-style type team. It’s a problem and we’ve got our hands full. We’re going to have to play real well to have success against Eastern Washington.
Australian senior forward Venky Jois is the Eagles’ leading returning scorer at 16.7 points per game.