By Brad Locke | NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Jalen Steele has one thing on his mind tonight.
“Yeah, yeah, revenge. That’s basically just on our mind, is revenge,” said Steele, Mississippi State’s sophomore guard. “We’re going to go out here and focus and get this win.”
The target of his ire is Florida Atlantic, the No. 17-ranked Bulldogs’ opponent at Humphrey Coliseum (8 p.m., CSS). Last season, FAU came into Starkville and left with a 61-59 win on the last day of November.
That set the table for a forgettable December for State, which included five more losses and that whole Renardo Sidney/Elgin Bailey brawl in Hawaii. Things are going much better now for MSU (9-1), which has won eight in a row, and Steele is playing a significant role in that.
He’s come on strong lately, averaging 12.0 points while making 10 of 16 from 3-point range the last three games. Steele has his confidence back and is having no issue with the knee he injured late last season.
“Right now when it leaves his hands you believe it’s going in, you’re kind of expecting it to go in,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “Three weeks ago everybody’s just kind of hoping it would go on, including him. Now he believes it’s going in when he catches it and shoots it.”
Steele will make his third consecutive start tonight as Brian Bryant finishes up his three-game suspension for a violation of school policy.
FAU, the reigning Sun Belt champion, enters with a 4-5 record. The Owls, 1-4 on the road, are coming off a 98-70 win over Warner Southern on Saturday.
Coach Mike Jarvis uses a pair of point guards, the more productive so far being 5-foot-7 junior Raymond Taylor (7.0 points, 5.2 assists per game). It’s a rather small group this season, what with shot-blocking machine Brett Royster lost to graduation.
Greg Gantt, a 6-2 junior and the team’s leading scorer last season, leads the way again with 13.9 points per game. He’s regained his 3-point stroke, making 39.5 percent from behind the arc.
“We were short-handed last year when we played them,” said MSU point guard Dee Bost, who was serving an NCAA suspension for FAU’s last visit. “You can’t never look past no opponent, because anybody can be beat at any given time.”