STARKVILLE – Mississippi State went on the road and found a long-lost friend.
The Bulldogs were in South Padre Island, Texas, last weekend for a pair of games. In their first road trip of the season, they lost 63-62 to Richmond, but they rebounded and knocked off Old Dominion 69-55 despite senior center Jarvis Varnado suffering a dislocated pinkie finger when he blocked a shot early in the game.
“Last year we came together, everybody was pulling for one another, and we just brought energy,” Varnado said. “We’ve been lacking that energy in the past few games, but we picked it back up against Old Dominion.”
It was that valuable intangible that carried MSU (4-2) to the 2009 SEC Tournament title, but the energy level fluctuated in the first five games of this season. Thus, the uninspired 3-2 start, which included a season-opening loss to Rider.
That fluctuating energy level is tied, to some degree, to the Bulldogs’ fluctuating lineup. Injuries have been the only constant with this team, and it’s affected the bench play the most.
“I don’t think our chemistry is nowhere near what it needs to be. Nothing’s been settled, that’s our problem,” coach Rick Stansbury said. “Then everything off the bench is totally nothing like it was. There’s the difference in us right there.”
Elgin Bailey (ankle) remains limited; Riley Benock (foot) has been ineffective; and Shaun Smith (hip) is still out indefinitely.
And now there’s Varnado’s injury. And senior guard Barry Stewart, it turns out, has been playing with a sprained right wrist since the second game.
Varnado hasn’t practiced all week, limited to shooting and running. That makes Saturday’s game against St. Bonaventure – tipoff at Humphrey Coliseum is 1 p.m. – even more worrisome. The Bonnies (4-2) have Andrew Nicholson, a 6-foot-9 sophomore who was named the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year last season.
He’s averaging 16.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, and his 70.9-percent field goal shooting ranks fifth in the nation.
Kodi Augustus, a 6-8 junior, played some at the five spot over the weekend, but MSU will need to get whatever it can out of Varnado, who’s averaging 14.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game.
“Whatever he’ll be Saturday, it won’t be full speed if he’s able to go,” Stansbury said. “That’s the question mark right now: What can he do come Saturday?”
So it’s all the more crucial that the Bulldogs maintain that energy level they found in Texas.
“We can’t slack with the team we have,” Stewart said. “We’re not very deep right now, and we’re going to have to have that energy every game.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal