By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Roquez Johnson has found his focus again, and he believes the rest of the Mississippi State team has, too.
Johnson and the Bulldogs (8-20, 3-13 SEC) will go for their second consecutive win when they play at South Carolina (13-16, 3-13) today. Tipoff is 6 p.m.
After serving a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules, Johnson, a sophomore forward, scored 10 points and had five rebounds in Saturday’s 73-67 upset of Ole Miss. That snapped MSU’s 13-game losing streak.
The night before that game, the Bulldogs held a meeting – just the players and one assistant coach. Johnson said they talked about how the season had gone so far and how the team “needed to get back where we were at the beginning of the season and stay focused. …
“We all got together like a group meeting and talked about the things we need to do individually and as a team.”
As for Johnson himself, he used the suspension to get back to what he’d been doing early in the season. Coach Rick Ray showed him tape of early games and noted that Johnson hadn’t been hustling as much lately.
It was tough watching from the bench, and Johnson said the time off helped him reevaluate things.
“I didn’t go play as hard as I could in games that I didn’t do well,” he said. “It was the hustle plays, like the rebounds, the loose balls, everything like that. I pretty much had to get back to that.”
MSU as a whole did a good job in those areas versus Ole Miss, and players gave a lot of credit for the performance to the atmosphere created by the fans that day.
Tonight, the Bulldogs will have to find energy and motivation from within, because they’re far from home playing a team that hasn’t been drawing large, lively crowds.
“We still need to stay as motivated as we were against Ole Miss and pull out the game against South Carolina,” Johnson said.
Ray said the Bulldogs had a great practice Monday morning and haven’t been reveling too much in the Ole Miss win. And he hopes they’ve learned lessons from earlier in the year, when MSU beat South Carolina and Georgia to open SEC play before losing 13 in a row.
“I think they’re in a good state of mind, but you really never know until you go play the ballgame because they’re 18- to 21-year-old kids,” Ray said. “They’re more worried about what songs to download at times rather than playing at South Carolina.”
In the first meeting, MSU scored 28 points off 24 Gamecock turnovers en route to a 56-54 win. Ray isn’t counting on South Carolina being so careless with the ball this time around.
“We’re going to have to find a way to manufacture some points and get another way to win. We’ve got motivation in that regard because I just don’t think South Carolina will turn the basketball over that much against us again.”