STARKVILLE – Phil Turner’s on-court role for Mississippi State has been reduced, but off the court – as he has learned – his intangibles are still desperately needed.
The 6-foot-3 junior was a starter last season in MSU’s four-guard lineup, acting as a sparkplug with his ability to leap above taller foes and drain 3-pointers from across the street.
With the emergence of 6-8 junior Kodi Augustus at the four position, Turner is coming off the bench this season. He’s averaging 6.1 points and 6.0 rebounds for the Bulldogs (5-2), who hit the road this week for games against DePaul on Thursday (in Tampa, Fla.) and UCLA on Saturday.
His on-court production was not the topic of conversation when assistant coach Phil Cunningham pulled Turner aside during last weekend’s trip to South Padre Island, Texas.
Cunningham’s instructions were simple: Fire up the guys.
“Don’t just get myself going, just try to let everybody feed off of me and pick it up a little bit during warmups,” Turner said. “I kind of tried to interact more with the guys and tried to boost their fire up a little bit.”
MSU came out smoking Saturday against St. Bonaventure, and they beat the Bonnies to a bloody pulp, 105-53, the largest margin of victory for State during head coach Rick Stansbury’s 11-plus seasons.
So what exactly did Turner say to stoke his teammates?
“He took another level of emotion before the game. That’ll be all I’ll say on that one,” senior guard Barry Stewart said with a laugh.
While Turner’s words are apparently not fit for print, they were quite effective. Point guard Dee Bost said he isn’t sure where the energy and enthusiasm ran off to early in the season, but it was clearly back Saturday.
“I don’t know how we found it,” Bost said. “I guess (it was) the first time all year in the locker room everybody was energized, ready to come out and play. It carried over to the court. It all started with Phil.”
Now the trick for MSU is to maintain that level of energy and enthusiasm. DePaul (5-2) prefers a plodding pace – it ranks 13th in the country in scoring defense (56.6 points per game) – and turns the ball over just 9.7 times per game, which ranks third.
Then it’s a cross-country flight to Anaheim, Calif., for a Saturday afternoon tilt against UCLA (2-5), which has struggled but put up a good fight against No. 1 Kansas on Sunday.
“The basketball game that we played this Saturday, if we can come out playing like that, I think we can turn a lot of heads, because that’s exciting basketball,” Turner said. “Everybody likes to see the deep threes and the dunks and the up-and-down play, the real fast play that we’re usually playing when we’re playing good.”
That kind of game is best played when Turner is serving as that sparkplug. The Bulldogs are fighting the injury bug and trying to find a groove as they dive deep into a daunting December slate – games against Wright State, Houston and San Diego await.
A little fire like they had Saturday, and they may be on to something.
“Now that we’ve got it,” said Bost, “we’ve got to continue to roll along with it.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal