By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – In three of its last four games, Mississippi State has experienced field goal droughts of longer than four minutes on six occasions, and several more between three and four minutes long.
And yet, MSU has lost just one of those games, at Western Kentucky. The No. 23-ranked Bulldogs (15-3, 3-0 SEC) have overcome inconsistency on offense during a three-game winning streak. Today, they’ll try to turn in a smoother performance at Alabama (11 a.m., CBS).
“I think as far as when we get a lead, we don’t play our tempo, we always try to change the game by just holding the ball or doing something we don’t normally do,” sophomore point guard Dee Bost said. “When we get a lead, we should just continue to play and run like we do, be patient.”
Just last week, MSU nearly blew a 19-point lead against Arkansas in an 82-80 win, and it twice erased double-digit deficits in the second half of a 72-69 win against Georgia.
A lot of things can be blamed for the dry spells: cold outside shooting, not being as aggressive with a lead, lack of bench depth.
“The bench changes the flow of the game, and we don’t have the opportunity to change the flow of the game a lot from our bench,” coach Rick Stansbury said. “Y’all remember last year how many times our bench came in, we weren’t playing great, the guys would change the flow, give you some energy, change the temperament of that game.
“We don’t do that very well right now.”
Until Stansbury gets more comfortable increasing the minutes of freshmen post players Wendell Lewis and John Riek, or until freshman Renardo Sidney gets cleared by the NCAA (if he ever does), there’s not a whole lot that can be done about the bench depth.
MSU simply needs to maintain a high level of play, which is easier said than done, but when the Bulldogs are sharp, they’re very good. In coming back against Georgia, they reeled of 14 unanswered points and scored 18 of the game’s last 20.
“We feel real fortunate to win a lot of games that could’ve went either way,” junior Phil Turner said. “But I feel like that just shows how much hard work we’ve put into it, and we’ve been staying together, and I feel like we’re going to win those close games if we continue to do those things.”
Alabama (11-7, 1-3) has lost three in a row, to Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Tennessee.
Under first-year coach Anthony Grant, the Crimson Tide looks strikingly similar to MSU as far as style: four players on the perimeter, one inside, scoring in transition.
“Their record doesn’t show it, but they’re real good,” senior Jarvis Varnado said.
MSU has the superior talent, but a Bulldog scoring drought can be an equalizer.
“If you’re not at your best in this league, whether you’re home or whether you’re away,” said Stansbury, “you have an opportunity to get beat.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mississippi State at Alabama
– TV: CBS, 11 a.m.
– Radio: MSU Network; XM Channel 201.
– Series: Alabama leads 111-71.
– Last year: MSU, 83-74 in Starkville; Alabama, 87-85 (2OT) in Tuscaloosa.
– Coaches – MSU: Rick Stansbury (246-131, 12th year); Alabama: Anthony Grant (87-32, fourth year overall; 11-7, first year at Alabama).
– Notes: MSU has won five of its last six meetings with Alabama. … State ranks first in the SEC in scoring defense (61.2 ppg). … MSU’s Jarvis Varnado is no longer the national blocks leader. Marshall’s Hassan Whiteside, a 7-foot freshman, has 97 in 18 games (5.39); Varnado has 96 in 18 games (5.33). … Alabama ranks 10th in the SEC in rebounding margin (minus-0.5 per game), while MSU ranks second (plus-6.9). … State is last in the SEC in steals per game (5.72).
Mississippi State (15-3, 3-0 SEC)
Likely starters Pts. Rebs. Also
C Jarvis Varnado 6-9 Sr. 14.1 11.2 62.2%FG
G Dee Bost 6-2 So. 12.2 4.8 5.6as
G Barry Stewart 6-3 Sr. 11.1 3.0 2.6as
G Ravern Johnson 6-7 Jr. 13.9 3.5 47% 3s
F Kodi Augustus 6-8 Jr. 9.3 5.8 42.9%FG
G Phil Turner 6-3 Jr. 6.2 4.8 82.9%FT
F Romero Osby 6-8 So. 5.1 2.7 54.5%FG
G Riley Benock 6-4 Jr. 1.9 0.8
Alabama (11-7, 1-3 SEC)
Likely starters Pts. Rebs. Also
G Anthony Brock 5-9 Sr. 5.8 1.9 2.1as
G Mikhail Torrance 6-5 Sr. 15.2 3.6 5.2as
F Tony Mitchell 6-6 Fr. 9.4 4.6 56.9%FG
F JaMychal Green 6-9 So. 15.0 7.3 2.1bl
F Justin Knox 6-9 Jr. 6.3 3.7 78.3%FT
G Charvez Davis 6-3 Jr. 6.2 1.4
G Senario Hillman 6-1 Jr. 8.3 3.1 1.5st
F Chris Hines 6-8 Jr. 3.2 2.9 55.8%FG