By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – By the time Mississippi State tips off Friday at 7 p.m. against Southeastern Louisiana in Tupelo, it will have been eight days since its last game.
The Bulldogs have been off for exams coming off a 71-61 home loss to TCU last Thursday. Coach Rick Ray has been charged with the task of getting his team ready to rebound from the loss with limited practice time.
“This is always a delicate week when you’re talking about finals,” Ray said. “You want to be fair to your players because they are student-athletes and getting them prepared for their finals so they can do well academically. But you also have to get prepared for the opponent too so we’re just trying to find that fine line between letting them get their work done and also being prepared for the game.”
Friday will be MSU’s first game in the BancorpSouth Arena in a decade. The Bulldogs are 3-0 in Tupelo, last defeating New Orleans 77-59 on Dec. 16, 2003.
“I’m really excited about playing this game in Tupelo,” Ray said. “Ever since I got the job, there’s been an outcry from the community in Tupelo to do something there and we made it come to fruition. I’m looking forward to this opportunity for our guys.”
State (5-2) has gotten off to slow starts in its last three outings. The Bulldogs were able to string together second half rallies in a 58-56 win over Jackson State and a 65-64 overtime decision against Loyola-Chicago.
However, Mississippi State’s sluggish start against TCU was more that it could overcome. The Bulldogs shot just 36-percent from the field in the first half and trailed 34-22 at halftime.
“The thing that we have to nail down is not getting off to slow starts in the first half,” Ray said. “I think it’s a mental thing with us being wrapped up in our offense. Whether we are having success on the offensive end dictates how we play defensively.”
MSU has also struggled in its perimeter shooting. The Bulldogs made just three of their 18 shots behind the arc against TCU and are shooting just 29.5-percent from 3-point range for the year causing opponents to play a lot of zone defense against them.
With the Bulldogs’ recent struggles, Ray is considering making some shifts to his starting lineup and substitution patterns throughout the game.
“We need to look at what gives us the best position to have success on the court,” Ray said. “I’m looking at making some changes to the starting lineup as well as how we end the game and start the second half.”