By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Rick Ray wants no pity.
There are plenty of reasons to feel sorry for Ray, whose first season as Mississippi State’s basketball coach has been one headache after another. The Bulldogs (7-19, 2-12 SEC) have lost 12 consecutive games and have been battling low numbers all season due to injuries and suspensions.
MSU is coming off a 72-31 loss to Vanderbilt, the program’s lowest scoring output in the shot clock era.
Despite all the struggles, Ray said he has no regrets taking the job despite offseason attrition, which included him dismissing two players prior to the season.
“I don’t want our guys feeling sorry for themselves. I know I don’t feel sorry for myself,” Ray said Monday. “I have no buyer’s remorse about being the head coach here at Mississippi State. I think it’s a great opportunity, and I think we’re going to be good.”
MSU visits Kentucky (19-8, 10-4) on Wednesday and will again have just six scholarship players available. Three of those players are freshmen and two are junior college transfers.
The issues of depth and inexperience are often mentioned by Ray as reasons for MSU’s struggles, but he said they aren’t excuses.
“I’m not trying to garner, hey, you do remember we only have this. I’m just stating facts. I don’t have an agenda behind it,” Ray said.
He sees hope for this program, which next year will get back three players who are out for the season with injuries, and a three-man signing class will further beef up the roster. And according to freshman Fred Thomas, these current struggles should prove beneficial.
“We can really learn from losing,” he said, “and prepare for next year.”
One of the injured players expected to help next season is freshman point guard Jacoby Davis, who tore his ACL during the summer. He was cleared on Thursday to participate in five-on-five practice drills and has been acting as the scout team point guard.
Freshman Andre Applewhite, who tore his ACL and meniscus in November, still has some work to do to get back on the practice floor full time.
Johnson still benched
Sophomore forward Roquez Johnson remains suspended and will not play against Kentucky.
Johnson, a 6-foot-7 reserve and one of just three healthy post players for MSU, has missed the last two games with an indefinite suspension.
Whether he’ll return Saturday against Ole Miss remains up in the air, Ray said.
“When we get back, we’ll determine his status as far as what we’ll do in the next game. But he definitely will not be playing at Kentucky,” Ray said.
Johnson is averaging 8.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.