By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
This is not your typical road game for Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs’ trip to Chicago today is wrapped in history, with the 7 p.m. tipoff against Loyola marking a significant moment in both this state and country’s racial struggles. The game is being played nearly 50 years after these two teams met in the 1963 NCAA tournament.
It was the first time MSU had played an integrated team, and doing so required sneaking out of town as segregationist demagogues attempted to block the trip.
The current MSU players have been learning a little bit about the historical significance of that 1963 game, including the watching of a documentary.
“I learned things I didn’t know,” senior center Wendell Lewis said. “It was kind of fun watching it and learning at the same time. I can’t wait to play this week and meet old players from back then and also learn something from them.”
As it turns out, Lewis can’t play because of a knee injury, but he traveled with the team. So he’ll get to hear some of the players involved in that game when they speak to the current Bulldogs.
“It’s just a unique experience to be going through this, and I want to make sure our guys are using it as a learning tool and advancing their knowledge of basketball,” first-year coach Rick Ray said.
MSU lost that game, 61-51, and Loyola went on to win the national title. In hindsight, the result wasn’t really important.
Need a win
As for today’s game, a win would do this young State team a lot of good.
The Bulldogs (3-5) have yet to win away from Humphrey Coliseum. In their last road game, they nearly overcame a 26-point deficit in the second half before falling to Providence, 73-63.
MSU is averaging 59.1 points per game, and Ray said improvement in that area starts with improvement on defense. State is giving up 76.4 points per game in its five losses.
“Defense travels,” Ray said. “And so hopefully we can get our guys to understand, we want our guys to go out and play consistently good defense, and that’ll translate over to us having some good offense.”
Loyola is 6-3 after a 73-61 loss to No. 19 Michigan State last week. The Ramblers are led by Ben Averkamp’s 17.4 points per game.
The game can be watched online at ESPN3.com.