By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Rick Ray has wanted to bring his Mississippi State Bulldogs to Tupelo, and Tupelo is more than happy to have them.
MSU will play a basketball game at BancorpSouth Arena for the first time in 10 years, the school announced Tuesday. They’ll take on Southeastern Louisiana on Dec. 13, marking the fourth time MSU has played here.
State is 3-0 at BCS Arena, most recently defeating New Orleans on Dec. 16, 2003. The Bulldogs also played there in 1997 and ’98.
Ray, who just completed his first season as head coach, said several months ago that he would like to play in Tupelo at least every other year, and that appears to be where this is headed. MSU won’t play its annual game in Jackson next season, which it’s done each of the past nine years.
“Tupelo has always been a supportive and very strong fan base for Mississippi State athletics, and we are glad that we are able to return the favor by playing a game for those fans in Tupelo,” Ray said in a statement.
“My hope would be to alternate games every season between Tupelo and Jackson in order to reach out to Mississippi State supporters in both communities.”
Todd Hunt, executive director of BancorpSouth Arena, said he’s been trying to get both MSU and Ole Miss to play at his 8,000-seat facility since he took over in 2007.
“We would love to host a game every year, to be honest with you, be it State, be it Ole Miss, be it both of them,” Hunt said.
The last college basketball game played at BCS Arena was Nov. 21, 2010, when Memphis beat LSU, 70-61.
The facility has a long history of hosting basketball events, including the Gulf South Conference Tournament (2001-06) and the MHSAA Grand Slam Tournament (2007-08).
The arena is currently undergoing a $1.6 million renovation, but Hunt said it’s already set up for basketball. He said the main floor was resurfaced in 2009, and new basketball goals were purchased in 2011.
“We’re ready for basketball,” Hunt said.
And he’s ready for more basketball beyond this MSU game. Hunt has talked with Ole Miss for years about playing in Tupelo, and Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork took a tour of the arena after being hired last year.
The Rebels played at BCS Arena in 2004, beating UT-Martin.
“It’s been something that they’ve expressed an interest in, we just haven’t been able to make it happen yet,” Hunt said.
Billy Orr, executive director of the Mississippi Fair Commission, said he had not heard about MSU’s scheduling decision until a reporter told him Tuesday. He said he’s not had any conversations with MSU about future dates at the Mississippi Coliseum but seems OK with a biannual game.
“No, we have not, but it sounds like a pretty fair shake, doesn’t it?” Orr said.