It's a three-game season and 'tough road' for MSU

By Paul Jones/Special to the Journal

By Paul Jones
Special to the Journal

Wednesday night was a celebration of history and also a vital SEC win over Alabama for the Mississippi State basketball team.
But shortly after Jarvis Varnado and Barry Stewart wrapped up their record-setting effort, the Bulldogs’ senior duo turned their attention to the remaining regular-season schedule.

“There was a time in that huddle where we were all talking about celebrating when the game is over and with a win,” said Varnado, the new NCAA career blocked shots leader. “The only thing that mattered is winning the game.
“We’re kind of fighting for our lives right now to get in the NCAA tournament. So yeah, now we can concentrate on making the tournament.”

“We have a tough road ahead still,” said Stewart, who broke the school record for career three-pointers. “Nothing is easy on the road and we still have work left to do.”
That “tough road” begins today when the Bulldogs (20-8, 8-5) face South Carolina (14-13, 5-8) in Columbia, S.C., for a 5 p.m. tip.

Winners of three of its last four, MSU is currently atop the Western Division and they hold a full-game lead over second-place Arkansas.

“Our deal now is three games,” said MSU head coach Rick Stansbury. “That’s all we’ve got to worry about.”

Stansbury and company are also concerned about contain ing South Carolina senior guard Devan Downey. Although the Gamecocks have dropped four straight, including Thursday’s loss at Kentucky, Stansbury took note of the problems Downey presents on the court.
Downey’s scoring average of 22.9 points currently paces the SEC.

“He is probably the most difficult guard in American to keep in front of you,” said Stansbury. “What he’s been able to do this year in SEC play and overall based on him having to be that guy, it’s an amazing stat.
“(Downey) is the toughest assignment and matchup that you can go against. Anybody that has guarded him will say the same thing about him.”

MSU closes out its road slate at Auburn before finishing the regular season at home against Tennessee – which is No. 19 heading into today’s game with Kentucky – next Saturday.

On the bubble
Squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble – ESPN.com’s ‘Bracketology’ has the Bulldogs as one of the last at-large teams in the tourney – the Bulldogs understand the pressure building for their last three games.
There is the opportunity for Stansbury to capture his seventh division title in his 12 years in Starkville. More importantly, the Bulldogs are in position to advance to their third straight NCAA Tournament.

“Anytime you go on the road it’s a tough task,” said sophomore point guard Dee Bost. “We just really have to play to the best of our ability and come out with a win.
“We come into this game controlling our own destiny. But we are taking it one step at a time. Controlling the West is first and then making sure we take the next steps to getting to the NCAA Tournament.”

And accomplishing both feats relies on a simple formula this time of year.
“You win enough games, it takes care of itself,” Varnado said.