In a matter of five days, Mississippi State turned into a totally different basketball team. In Thursday's 69-64 win over Ole Miss, the Bulldogs (9-7, 1-1 SEC) were everything they hadn't been on Saturday in a 75-57 loss to Alabama.
Dee Bost had his legs back. Renardo Sidney played up to his promise. MSU finished strong on both ends of the floor, making stops and hitting free throws in the final three minutes.
"Our kids came up here with two things in mind: Play with some heart, and play with no fear," coach Rick Stansbury said. "It's very obvious we had some fear the last game. For all the reasons involved, first game from all that happening, Dee's first game – tonight we never had (that fear). I never felt from minute one, when I left that locker room, there was any fear in our guys. I like that about them."
Stansbury talked a lot about this win providing his team with a "teaching point," a sign pointing them toward better days, far away from the tumult of the past month.
"For these guys right now, to fight through some things they've had to fight through, stay together and keep believing, it's not easy," Stansbury said. "If there's ever a teaching point in life, there it is again. … The win is very sweet. The things we've been talking about in life and how you respond to things and what you're going to become, there's a perfect example of it."
While Stansbury was pleased with the physical aspect of his team's improvement – particularly Bost's smoother play and Sidney's more aggressive work on offense – he kept going back to the intangibles. He talked about belief and the process of putting this team together at mid-season.
It was only Bost's second game and Sidney's fourth. And the Bulldogs won despite another off night by sharpshooter Ravern Johnson, who's points-per-game average has now dipped to 18.3.
"You need something good to happen," the coach said. "And what a teaching point this is right here. I don't have to say a lot from here on out. This is a great teaching point they're going to carry with them now."
Stansbury echoed what players told us earlier this week about the team being positive in practices despite the Bama beatdown. He thinks they've been able to focus on the bigger picture.
"We were upbeat, we were positive. Because our team understands, we understand what we are right now, who we are. And we understand we're going to get better."