By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – This prolonged slump in which Mississippi State is mired began late in the first half against Alabama, on Jan. 16.
MSU was actually playing quite well that day – until the final three-plus minutes of the first half, when Alabama scored six unanswered points for a 30-22 halftime lead. The Tide came out firing the second half, turning that 6-0 spurt into a 21-0 run.
The Bulldogs (7-17, 2-10 SEC) lost, 75-43, and haven’t won since. They hope to snap a 10-game losing streak tonight when they visit the Crimson Tide (17-8, 9-3) at 7 tonight.
First-year MSU coach Rick Ray has gone back and viewed the film of the first loss.
“What I plan on doing is going back and showing those guys unforced turnovers in the first half,” he said. “And more importantly the way they played basketball at the beginning of that game in the first 17 to 18 minutes that they had success against Alabama. I think they have to see the positives as well as the negatives.
“I think if you go out and look at those first 16-17 minutes, it shows that our guys can compete against Alabama and somehow turning those first 16-17 into a full 40 minutes.”
Defensive breakdowns marked that loss, and they have been a constant issue during this losing skid. MSU has allowed 75 or more points in seven of the losses and is coming off an 80-68 setback to LSU.
Ray said MSU is “getting back to some principles defensively, and maybe we can turn our defense into some offense.”
State will try to do this, of course, while playing short-handed. Forward Roquez Johnson is serving an indefinite suspension, and the Bulldogs will be playing with six scholarship players and two walk-ons. Jalen Steele traveled with the team and is expected to be available after serving a three-game suspension.
Alabama doesn’t have a true offensive post threat, although Ray noted that there are several versatile players in that lineup, like Rodney Cooper and Devonta Pollard.
“There won’t be as many matchup problems because we won’t have as many true post guys out there,” Ray said. “They post Nick Jacobs, and really (Moussa) Gueye is not that big of a threat as far as like posting. The challenge for us will just be managing the minutes.”
With Johnson out, MSU is down to two post players. That means 6-foot-3 guard Tyson Cunningham and Craig Sword will spend some time at the four spot. Perhaps that will be a problem defensively, but offensively the Bulldogs like the matchup.
“We can have a mismatch; a four-guard will have to stick me, and they’re gonna be in trouble,” Sword said.