By Logan Lowery
For the first time in a decade, Mississippi State men’s basketball is visiting Tupelo.
The Bulldogs play at BancorpSouth Arena on Friday at 7 p.m,. hosting Southeastern Louisiana. It will be the first time MSU has played in Tupelo since 2003 and is considered a home game.
“We’re very excited to welcome NCAA basketball back to the arena,” said BankcorpSouth Arena executive director Todd Hunt. “The atmosphere for our last game featuring LSU and Memphis (Nov. 21, 2010) was absolutely electric. Hopefully we’ll have a similar energy for MSU and Southeastern Louisiana.”
The Bulldogs are 3-0 all-time playing in the BancorpSouth Arena downing Tennessee-Martin 80-60 on Dec. 20, 1997, Northwestern State 75-46 on Nov. 21, 1998 and New Orleans 77-59 on Dec. 16, 2003.
“It’s us trying to give back to the fans,” said MSU coach Rick Ray. “I think Tupelo is a very loyal fan base to Mississippi State. (When I scheduled it) I didn’t think of it as what we could get out of it going to play in Tupelo but more so what we could do to give back to that community for the support they’ve given us throughout the years.”
Mississippi State has played at least one “home” game away from Humphrey Coliseum in 14 of the last 16 years and are 15-0 in those outings. The Bulldogs have made 10 appearances in Jackson, three in Tupelo and two in Southaven over that span.
Mississippi State has played in the state capitol in eight of the last nine years and that’s a trend that Ray intends to continue – but with a twist.
“What I would like to do is play in Jackson every other year then go to Tupelo, Southaven or even to the Gulf Coast,” Ray said. “That’s the plan but we’ll definitely make sure we’re in Jackson every other year at the very least.”
The Bulldogs played in Jackson a year ago during Ray’s first season defeating Central Arkansas 79-72 in the Mississippi Coliseum.
Bringing college basketball back to the 10,000 seat BancorpSouth Arena has been a goal for Hunt and his staff over the past few years and he is glad to see that come to fruition this week.
“Our mission is to serve as an economic driver for the city of Tupelo while also enhancing the quality of life for area citizens,” Hunt said. “Adding college basketball to our entertainment mix is a great way to accomplish that mission. We look forward to hosting coach Ray and the Bulldogs.”
There will be a free autograph session with the MSU basketball team at the BCS Arena on Thursday at 6 p.m. in the west concourse.