By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi State has been holding out on us. What we saw Tuesday night against No. 1 Kentucky was a glimpse of what we’d expected to see on a regular basis this season. Alas, this was apparently a one-night showing, and we will resume our regularly scheduled MSU basketball season on Saturday at Alabama.
Listen, let’s give credit to the Bulldogs for showing up and giving Kentucky everything it could handle in that 73-64 loss. That was one of their best performances of the season, and they had to play the majority of that game without injured starter Rodney Hood.
“I don’t think anybody that witnessed that game wouldn’t say that those guys played with their hearts and their souls and stood toe to toe under some adverse situations, losing one of your guys,” coach Rick Stansbury said.
But where has this passion and desire – this heart and soul –been hiding? It wasn’t present during the previous three games, all losses to lesser opponents. Oh, there were stretches where MSU looked like it belonged in the top 25, but we didn’t see it for an entire game.
MSU came out Tuesday looking slick in those new grey uniforms, with the ESPN lights shining, and put up a valiant fight. For whatever reason, that kind of heart is harder to come by when the game’s at Auburn on Fox Sports Net.
I understand that it’s human nature for these players to get more pumped about Kentucky than about, say, Georgia. Stansbury admitted as much, saying after the overtime loss to Georgia that playing a team of that caliber “don’t stir that much up inside of you.”
Well, that’s where self-motivation comes in. You’ve got to stir it up yourself, and this team doesn’t seem capable of doing that.
It better figure out how, and quick. MSU (19-9, 6-7 SEC) has played its way onto the NCAA tournament bubble with three games plus the SEC Tournament remaining. Up next is a visit to Alabama on Saturday – an Alabama team missing a couple of key cogs, but still a dangerous group.
Plus, State is just 1-5 in SEC road games, and that one win came at Vanderbilt in front of a packed house. As with Kentucky, the opponent itself is what pushed MSU to great heights.
MSU’s road losses in league play have come against teams with a combined SEC record of 29-31; Florida’s 9-3 mark skews the stat a bit. And then there was the home loss to Georgia, which is 3-9 and a game out of last place.
The Bulldogs are too talented to just fritter away this season. Surely they recognize that. And when you show the kind of effort and ability that State showed Tuesday night, then we’re all left wondering: Where has this team been?
And will it ever show up again?
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at DJournal.com.