LOGAN LOWERY: Ray bringing Bulldogs hoops back

LOGAN LOWERY

LOGAN LOWERY

STARKVILLE

Many might contend that Mississippi State’s men’s basketball program couldn’t go anywhere but up after last year’s debacle.

After all, the Bulldogs won only 10 games and finished 13th in the SEC standings with a depleted roster comprised with mostly first-year players.

But Rick Ray’s second season in Starkville has certainly shown signs of improvement. Not only has MSU already surpassed its overall win total from a year ago by three games but attendance is beginning to rise steadily as well.

For years, Humphrey Coliseum created one of the more intimidating atmospheres in the SEC. But that environment dissipated last season seeing only a half-filled arena for a majority of the year.

The Bulldogs have eclipsed crowds of over 7,000 for each of its first three home conference games – which have all led to victories. State only had six crowds that size all of last season.

The 8,841 fans that watched the Bulldogs defeat Ole Miss 76-72 on Jan. 11 was the largest crowd of the Ray era so far.

Although Mississippi State did not play a particularly demanding non-conference schedule at home this year, it is still impressive that the Bulldogs are 11-1 inside “The Hump.” The only loss came Dec. 5 71-61 against TCU.

Ray would be the first to admit that his team still has a long way to go but there is no question the program is headed in the right direction.

There were even signs late last year that the players were buying into things. Instead of throwing in the towel in the midst of a 13-game losing streak, MSU managed to win three of its final five outings to gain some confidence heading into the offseason.

Even small milestones such as not finishing last in the SEC and winning a game in the SEC Tournament went a long way in restoring a once-proud program.

One thing fans have taken pride in since Ray’s arrival has been the hustle and discipline he has brought to the program and instilled in his players. No matter the score or how few players he has available, Ray’s squad continues to fight hard for 40 minutes.

Next year

The roster is still thin, with only eight scholarship players available. The frontcourt is especially diluted having just three big men.

But the numbers should increase next season as 2013 signees Fallou Ndoye and Travis Daniels are eligible, joining a recruiting class filled with three-star prospects Maurice Dunlap, Oliver Black and Demetrius Houston.

Three-star hoops standout Elijah Staley will also join the team after his quarterback duties are done with the football team.

Logan Lowery (logan.lowery@ journalinc.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideMSUSports.com.