By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
AUBURN, Ala. – Mississippi State is in perfect position to get on a roll – if it can retain its stamina.
The Bulldogs (13-10, 5-4 SEC), who’ve won two in a row and are in second place in the Western Division, are coming off one of their better performances of the season in Wednesday’s 67-56 win over Arkansas. Today, they hit the road to face Auburn (8-15, 1-9) for a 6 p.m. tipoff.
Against the Razorbacks, MSU shot well, rebounded well, defended well – pretty much the whole package.
“If we’re playing like that, we can beat a lot of teams,” senior Riley Benock said. “Especially on the road, you have to play with a lot of energy and toughness.”
Toughness was the buzzword Wednesday. Benock played despite suffering a bruised shoulder the day before in practice, and point guard Dee Bost played again with a strained Achilles’ tendon, an injury he suffered 10 days ago at Alabama.
Both are expected to play today, although Benock might again come off the bench, meaning freshman Jalen Steele would start.
Not known is whether senior guard Ravern Johnson will return to the fold. He’s under indefinite suspension for “inappropriate tweets” and missing practices and classes, and he’s sat the last two games. He did not travel to LSU a week ago.
MSU coach Rick Stansbury would not say whether Johnson was with the team today. Nor would he say when that information might be made available.
“I don’t know,” Stansbury said. “I ain’t going to make no comments.”
If Johnson sits, Stansbury will again have a particularly thin bench to turn to. The reserves were unusually effective against Arkansas, though: Benock, Brian Bryant and Wendell Lewis combined for 21 points and 14 rebounds.
The last time MSU’s bench was so productive was Jan. 16, when it scored 22 in the Bulldogs’ 85-66 win over Auburn.
On the other hand, Bost played 36 minutes and Steele logged 35 against the Hogs. Fatigue must be a concern, especially with Auburn not having played in a week.
“More than anything this time of year, you want to have fresh legs and fresh minds,” first-year Auburn coach Tony Barbee said.
MSU probably won’t be so fresh, but the chance to get a good winning streak going does provide added energy.
“I think it feels good going to Auburn from (the Arkansas) game,” Steele said. “We’re all playing together right now, and the defense is really stepping up for us.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571