By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Rick Ray is trying to keep his team healthy, and that’s just one of the challenges facing Mississippi State today.
The Bulldogs (6-7, 1-0 SEC) are on the road to face Georgia (6-8, 0-1) in a 12:45 p.m. matchup. MSU is coming off a 56-54 win over South Carolina, a game in which several players cramped up, including junior guard Jalen Steele.
Ray, who’s in his first season as head coach, has been working with trainer Scott Johnson to prevent a similar scenario from happening today.
“Obviously it’s beyond me. That’s why he’s a trainer and I’m the ball coach,” Ray said. “I said we need to try and address it because we’re already short guys, and it really puts us in a bind if (Steele’s) not available.”
MSU has seven healthy scholarship players, most of them freshmen and sophomores.
The road has not been kind to this young group – State is 0-6 away from Humphrey Coliseum. Ray said what should help his Bulldogs today is the confidence gained from having won two games in a row for the first time this season.
“When you beat New Orleans, guys get a little bit of confidence, but when you beat an SEC-caliber team, guys get even more confidence,” Ray said.
MSU has gotten it done the last couple of games with defense, forcing 47 total turnovers against UNO and South Carolina. State ranks eighth in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 62.6 points per game.
All eyes on Pope
Georgia is last in scoring offense (59.4 ppg), but it does boast the league’s fourth-leading scorer in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The 6-foot-5 sophomore is averaging 17.0 points per game and is the only UGA player scoring in double digits.
Ray said freshman Fred Thomas, who’s also 6-5, has the best length to handle Caldwell-Pope. But he won’t have to do it alone.
“It’ll be a challenge for us, but it’s not going to be just one person, it’s going to be multiple guys helping out even when he has the ball,” Ray said. “We’re calling it ‘Pope-conscious’ – every time you’ve got to know where Pope is. Not just the guy defending him, but the rest of the team, too.”
Georgia is coming off a 77-44 defeat at Florida, which snapped a four-game winning streak. The Bulldogs are 6-3 at home.
“Win or lose, you don’t take the last game into the next game,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “Are we mature enough to be able to do that? I’m not sure. We won’t know that until we play.”