Bulldogs’ resolve at home to be tested

8TB6_MSU_primary_logoBy Logan Lowery

Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – Mississippi State has not lost back-to-back games all year but has not defeated a ranked opponent since the 2011-12 season.

Something will have to give tonight as the Bulldogs host No. 3 Florida at 6 p.m. on ESPN 2.

MSU is 3-0 in Southeastern Conference games at home but lost its third league outing on the road Saturday in an 82-63 setback at Ole Miss.

“We continued our pattern of not playing very well on the road,” said MSU coach Rick Ray. “We have won our home games here with a 3-3 start. The problem is now you come in with a team like Florida that’s ranked No. 3 in the nation and it’s going to be hard to get healthy at home against them. They are such a well-coached and veteran ball club and have really played well. We’ll have to be up to the task.”

The Bulldogs are 0-5 against ranked teams under Ray and have not knocked off a ranked opponent since beating No. 15 Arizona on Nov. 18, 2011.

A win tonight would mark the 400th by the men’s basketball team inside Humphrey Coliseum, which opened in 1975. A victory would also be State’s fourth conference win which would match last season’s total.

The Bulldogs are 13-6 overall and remain second in the SEC and 15th nationally with an average of 8.8 steals per game. Mississippi State is shooting 45.4 percent from the field and averaging 70.9 points. They have hit 30.9 percent from 3-point range and 65.3 percent from the charity stripe.

Sophomore shooting guard Craig Sword (13.9) continues to be the Bulldogs’ top scorert. But Sword has been limited to just 10 total points in his last two outings.

“It’s been very frustrating,” Sword said. “I’ve got to work on my shot more because a lot of teams are starting to play zone. I’ve got to do more than drive.”

Florida (17-2) is off to a 6-0 start to lead the SEC standings. The Gators have won 11 straight overall and have won three consecutive over MSU.

Florida leads the overall series 60-49 while the Bulldogs hold the edge in Starkville, 33-20. Billy Donovan’s Gators swept last year’s series with an 82-47 victory on the road and a 83-58 win in Gainesville.

“There’s probably no other way to get better than to get the level of experience those guys had a year ago,” Donovan said of MSU’s team. “They’ve certainly played extremely well at home this year. I think Rick’s got a really, really good nucleus of four or five guys – Roquez Johnson and younger guys that are going to really grow and continue to improve, and they have from last year to this year.”

Florida’s starting five features four seniors including forward Casey Prather, who leads the team in scoring (16.8). The Gators also sport the current SEC Player of the Week in sophomore guard Michael Frazier II, who averaged 17.5 points in wins over Alabama and Tennessee last week.

logan.lowery@journalinc.com