By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Even a hobbled Dee Bost can be a nightmare to deal with.
Mississippi State’s junior point guard has battled a bad hamstring and a strained Achilles’ tendon over the past few weeks, and it’s clearly affected his ability to shoot. Over his last three games, Bost has shot 25 percent from both the floor (9 of 36) and from 3-point range (5 of 20).
But he’s dished out 28 assists against 10 turnovers during the same span, and State has won two of the three games.
“Dee Bost, he’s great. I mean, oh man, what a player,” said Arkansas coach John Pelphrey, whose team hosts the Bulldogs at 8 tonight. “His speed, his toughness, his ability to take big shots and make big shots, he’s also a defensive player. … Big, big-time player.”
Bost will need to be at his best tonight for MSU (15-13, 7-7 SEC), which can clinch second place in the Western Division – and a first-round bye in next week’s SEC Tournament – with a win. Arkansas (18-10, 7-7) wouldn’t clinch the No. 2 seed with victory but would put itself in prime position to do so Saturday.
That MSU is even in this spot is a credit to Bost, who missed all 14 non-conference games with NCAA and academic suspensions.
He’s averaging 16.2 points and 6.0 assists per game and continues to climb up the school career list in assists – his 428 rank fifth; Derrick Zimmerman holds the school record with 514.
The best ever?
So the question has been raised: Could Bost be the best point guard ever to come through Starkville?
“Absolutely, he’s one of the best, for sure,” coach Rick Stansbury said. “A lot of things he does that maybe other guards haven’t done, maybe some things other guards have done he doesn’t do as well. But absolutely you can say he is one of the best, for sure.”
The best evidence for that argument is this recent stretch of games, as Bost has found other ways to contribute until his shot comes back.
He made a huge play in Saturday’s 70-69 upset of Tennessee, racing downcourt, spinning in the lane and finding Wendell Lewis for the winning dunk with 3.4 seconds left.
“He hasn’t been scoring as much lately, and not necessarily shooting the ball as well, but you still look at his last his couple of games as being some of the best he’s played,” senior guard Riley Benock said. “He obviously had a huge impact at Tennessee for us. He passed the ball well, and he’s always in there mixing it up, rebounding, doing whatever he can to help the team.”
It’s going to take a pretty serious injury to keep Bost off the floor – he’s also dealt with the loss of a tooth, courtesy of Vanderbilt forward Festus Ezeli’s elbow – and it’s his moxie that’s allowed MSU to bounce back from humiliating defeats to Auburn and LSU, the two worst teams in the West.
Bost’s mantra has been to move on and put the last game in the past.
The Bulldogs’ singular focus now is to take care of Arkansas and make the improbable path to an NCAA bid at least a little more navigable.
The only way the Bulldogs get to the Big Dance is by winning the SEC Tournament, so that’s where Bost will try to lead them, limp and all.
“It’s been a tough year for us,” Bost said. “Right now, this is the most important time of the year, because being crunch time, we’ve just got to come together as one and put everything together.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571