Chattanooga preview

Former New Albany standout Jazmine Spears and Mississippi State open the NCAA Tournament today in Starkville. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Former New Albany standout Jazmine Spears and Mississippi State open the NCAA Tournament today in Starkville. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

No. 15 Mississippi State will make its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance under Vic Schaefer today.

However this year’s trip to the Big Dance feels differently for the Bulldogs due to the fact that they are hosting the first and second rounds at Humphrey Coliseum for the first time. Fifth-seeded MSU takes on No. 12 seed Chattanooga at 1:30 p.m. on ESPN2.

“I’ve been trying to impart on my group that yes, we’re at home but this is still the NCAA Tournament,” Schaefer said. “We have earned the right to be here. The fact that we were honored as the host site, we’ve got to go do our part and that’s also my challenge with our fans.”

The fans have certainly flocked to Starkville so far this season. What Schaefer referred to as “The People’s Team” averaged 6,111 fans during conference play and 5,044 for the year. Mississippi State set a new school and state single-game attendance record with 10,626 fans against South Carolina on Jan. 24 and are hoping for similar numbers for today’s game against the Mocs.

“This is our moment to shine and I want that as much as anything,” Schaefer said. “I think it’s so special, so unique and I’m so proud that we’ve been able to build that here in such a short period of time. That’s part of the program. I want to show the country what we have here.”

The Bulldogs (26-7) have played well inside Humphrey Coliseum going 14-2 at home this year. Their only two losses were against South Carolina and Kentucky, who are both in the NCAA Tournament field.

“We have to defend our home court,” said MSU guard Dominique Dillingham. “The mayor (Parker Wiseman) said this was Mississippi State women’s basketball weekend so we don’t want to just make it a day. We want to win the weekend.”

Also playing in Starkville this weekend will be fourth-seeded Michigan State and No. 13 seed Belmont. Those two teams meet at 11 a.m. today on ESPN2.

Mississippi State is making its eighth overall NCAA Tournament appearance and are 7-7 all-time in the event. The Bulldogs’ best run was advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2010.

MSU was eliminated in the second round last year as a No. 5 seed by Duke in Durham, North Carolina.

The Bulldogs are 3-2 all-time against Chattanooga and 2-1 in Starkville in the series. Mississippi State won the previous meeting between the two 103-87 on Dec. 3, 1993 as part of the MSU Classic.

Chattanooga is 24-7 on the year having won 11 straight. The Mocs are led by junior center Jasmine Joyner with 12.9 points and 9.3 rebounds. The Southaven native tops the country with four blocks per game.

I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.

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