By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – When this week began, Mississippi State looked like a team coming apart. Dee Bost is doing all he can to make sure it stays together.
The Bulldogs close out the regular season today when Arkansas visits Humphrey Coliseum for a 4 p.m. tipoff. It’s senior day for State, and Bost is one of three who will be recognized.
“It’s going to be an emotional day,” Bost said, “but life goes on.”
The Bulldogs (20-10, 7-8 SEC) are hoping to go on to the NCAA tournament, and beating Arkansas (18-12, 6-9) today is crucial to that plan. MSU is coming off a 69-67 overtime win at South Carolina on Wednesday, two days after starting forward Arnett Moultrie lambasted teammates for poor work ethic and disunity.
There was a team meeting later that day, and the air has apparently been cleared.
“Sometimes when you’re angry at the moment you don’t think before you speak,” senior guard Brian Bryant said. “We don’t let what he said change our team. We’ve still got to play team ball together.”
Said Bost, “We just put everything behind us and tried to move forward, and that’s what we did. Now we’ve got to take this as a positive and move forward. We’ve always been together no matter what, but now is the most important time. We’ve got to put a little run together and make a push.”
Before beating South Carolina, the Bulldogs had lost five in a row and nearly played their way out of the NCAA tourney conversation. Then an injury to starting guard Rodney Hood kept him out for a game-and-a-half – he played 13 minutes at South Carolina.
Backup point guard DeVille Smith twisted an ankle that game and suddenly depth has become a major issue.
So MSU needs more from everybody, and it got 16 points from Bryant on Wednesday. That’s nearly 10 points above his average.
Three players recorded double-doubles: Bost, Moultrie and Renardo Sidney.
“We played with great effort but, more importantly, when the team made runs at us and even got the lead, our guys stayed focused and really stayed together,” coach Rick Stansbury said. “We really executed down the stretch and made the plays we had to make.”
If MSU wins today, it will earn the No. 6 seed in next week’s SEC Tournament. It will also gain some revenge for a 98-88 loss to Arkansas on Jan. 7 in Fayetteville.
That was a game in which the Razorbacks’ press gave State some trouble, as the Bulldogs committed 18 turnovers. Bost expects a much better showing this time, not least because this team has so much on the line.
“Not only are we playing for SEC positioning, we’re playing for an NCAA tournament berth. Like I was telling everybody (Thursday), right now we’re not in the tournament, so we can be motivated.”