By Paul Jones/Special to the Journal
STARKVILLE – The last time MSU seniors Jarvis Varnado and Barry Stewart played at Humphrey Coliseum, the Bulldog duo both enjoyed a record-setting night filled with a post-game celebration.
Today, Varnado and Stewart are hoping for more festivities in their final regular-season game at The Hump.
The Bulldogs (21-9 and 9-6 in the SEC) host 13th-ranked Tennessee (22-7, 10-5) in a 5 p.m. tipoff. With a win, MSU can clinch an outright Western Division crown and aid their NCAA hopes.
“It’s going to be emotions everywhere and it’s going to be hyped for the game,” said Stewart, the school’s all-time leader in three-pointers made, minutes played and games played. “It would also be a good win for us to show the (NCAA selection) committee.
“It’s going to be a lot of emotions and it’s going to take a lot of focus for that game.”
Last time out, the Bulldogs’ NCAA hopes took a big hit with an 89-80 loss at Auburn. Currently, tournament predictions have the Bulldogs not making the Big Dance. But Varnado noted the team’s focus is strictly on the Volunteers.
A win today would help the Bulldogs from possibly having to repeat last year’s SEC Tournament run in order to reach the NCAAs.
“We don’t care what people are saying about us,” Varnado said. “We are just trying to win ball games and that is our main focus right now. We got the records out of the way so we can focus on winning the games and getting to the (NCAA) Tournament.”
Stewart and Varnado are the lone two seniors being honored today, and their history goes back to their high school days. Barring a home game in the NIT, Stewart and Varnado will suit up for the final time at Humphrey Coliseum.
“It started out in AAU playing with each other,” said Stewart, a Shelbyville, Tenn., native. “After the high school season, too, we played in the East-West (Tennessee) All-Star game and the East (Stewart’s team) kicked the West (Varnado’s team) team’s butt (laughing). We had some words then and we were friends then.
“Then we got here and we were in the dorm together. We were basically together every minute of the day, at practice and off the court. That really grew us closer together. Our friendship has been close over the years.”
The two have remained roommates and close friends over the years. They started their college careers together and last week, Varnado set the NCAA blocked shots record and Stewart the school’s three-pointers’ record.
And when they are not on the floor together – in games and practice – they can be often found together as well.
“We still hang out and have fun,” said Stewart. “We debate about a lot of things. But we have two other roommates, too, Twany (Beckham) and Riley (Benock). Usually two-on-two with me and Riley against him and Twany. We debate about everything to basketball to whatever is going on. We usually have some good debates. It gets kinda loud down there, I will put it that way (laughing).”
But today, Stewart and Varnado will not be debating on what must occur against Tennessee. Varnado’s usual job will be to keep UT’s Wayne Chism and company from having their way.
But Varnado briefly joked he has another task on Saturday only to quickly turn his attention to the day’s big picture.
“My job Saturday is to keep this guy (Stewart) from crying,” said Varnado, a Brownsville, Tenn., native. “It’s going to be real emotion but you know, it’s going to be good, too.
“You always get up for your home state. But we know we have something at stake as well, trying to win the West and getting to the NCAA Tournament.”