By Brad Locke | NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi State’s defense has been a lot stingier since it gave up 98 points to Arkansas on Jan. 7, which raises a critical question.
Has MSU played better defense the last two games, or has it simply had better matchups?
Arkansas runs a pressing, high-octane attack and is third in the SEC in scoring. The Bulldogs’ last two opponents, Tennessee and Alabama, are more focused on being physical and playing a halfcourt game.
MSU (15-3, 2-1 SEC) won both of those games by four points: 62-58 over Tennessee, 56-52 over Alabama.
“Most of the season we’ve been decent,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said Monday about his team’s defensive effort. “I don’t think we’ve been great, but we’ve been decent. The one at Arkansas, we just got caught up in that style.”
For the season, MSU is allowing 64.1 points per game, which ranks seventh in the SEC. The 98 points by Arkansas were by far the most given up by State this season and tied for the most scored against a Stansbury-coached team.
Nevertheless, State has done some good things defensively the last two games. A very notable effort on Saturday was that by junior forward Renardo Sidney.
The 6-foot-10 Sidney helped keep Alabama’s JaMychal Green in check, including a big stop with under a minute to go when he forced a bad shot by Green.
“He played a season high of minutes, 28 minutes, and I probably thought for that amount of minutes it was his best effort,” Stansbury said. “No question that’s what we need from him. We need that consistency, that effort.”
State travels to Ole Miss on Wednesday, and it should be another favorable matchup. The Rebels are averaging 66.0 points per game, and they’ve hit the 70-point mark only once in the last six games.
MSU football coach Dan Mullen treats the annual Egg Bowl with Ole Miss as a distinctly different game. Stansbury doesn’t take that same approach to the Rebels.
He certainly understands the rivalry, and he’s dominated it: Stansbury is 20-7 all-time versus the Rebels, and the Bulldogs have won the last five meetings. But in basketball, of course, these teams play twice a season, and a third meeting in the SEC Tournament is always possible.
“They understand it’s your in-state rival,” Stansbury said of his players. “But as coaches it’s not quite the same thing. … It’s one win and one loss for us. We’re just trying to get through 16 (SEC) games and keep our kids as consistent as we can.”
During its current win streak, State’s average margin of victory is 6.6 points.
“Ultimately it comes down to what I term as moments of truth. It’s the difference between winning and losing,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “You’ve got to have guys that can make plays.
“That not only means making shots, but you’ve got to come up with timely stops, loose balls, step up and make a play when your team needs it, and I’m sure Wednesday night will come down to just that.”
MSU moves up
Mississippi State moved up in both major polls on Monday.
The Bulldogs were bumped up two spots to No. 18 in the AP poll, and they jumped five spots in the USA Today coaches poll to No. 15.