By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – As the saying goes, perhaps Mississippi State’s players are just too young to know any better.
Despite being mired in an eight-game losing streak – MSU’s longest in 26 years – this team does not move and talk as one that’s beaten down. For the Bulldogs (7-15, 2-8 SEC), there is no submission to the dire reality of their circumstances.
When they host Missouri tonight, there will be only six scholarship players available, as junior Jalen Steele continues to serve his suspension for a violation of team rules. He also missed Saturday’s game at Florida, an 83-58 MSU loss.
Three of MSU’s current starters are freshmen, and the others are junior college transfers. Their average age is 20 years old. But they seem to be a resilient group.
“Yeah, we’re kind of frustrated, but we can just keep fighting through it. We can’t let that stop us from competing and trying to win games,” freshman Fred Thomas said.
“I wouldn’t say sad or mad – we can’t be that way. But if we want to win games, we’ve got to stay positive, just stay positive so we can win games.”
First-year head coach Rick Ray likes the way his team is competing and fighting even when digging itself a big hole, as happened against Florida. Both physical and mental fatigue are taking a toll, yet they soldier on.
“I’m not really concerned about the state of our guys right now, because we’ve got good kids on our team, and they’re trying to do things the right way,” Ray said. “We’ve just got to try to find a way to forge ahead and hopefully get a victory some time here in the near future.”
A win will be tough to come by against Missouri (17-6, 6-4), which is coming off a 98-79 drubbing of Ole Miss. But then, that game was in Columbia.
The Tigers are 0-5 on the road this season, and second-year coach Frank Haith hasn’t been happy with his team’s defense and shooting in those games. The combined records of those five teams is 82-31, so it’s hard to say any of them are “bad” losses.
“I do think we’ve played better our last two road games, and we just didn’t finish well,” Haith said.
Mizzou was without forward Laurence Bowers for two of those losses due to injury. He’s been back four games and is still trying to round into form.
“I think his health is fine, it’s just the timing and getting back in the flow of things,” Haith said.
Missouri has something to play for, namely an NCAA tournament bid. For the Bulldogs, they must look within for all of their motivation.
Thomas said they’re doing that.
“We just play with each other, and it’s not a one-man team. We’re just going to play together, play smart, play tougher than the other team.”