By Paul Jones/Special to the Journal
STARKVILLE – Similar to the past couple of weeks, MSU head coach Rick Ray opened his weekly press conference on Thursday with an update on injuries. But this time, there was some good news to relay.
Junior guard Jalen Steele hasn’t played since suffering a broken wrist in the Bulldogs’ second game. While he won’t suit up Saturday in Jackson against Central Arkansas, Ray said there was a chance Steele could return on Dec. 30th against Alabama A&M at Humphrey Coliseum.
There was also bad news. Senior center Wendell Lewis did have successful surgery this week but Ray said they won’t know how long he may be out until at least six weeks from now.
Ray also noted that Lewis has the option to medically redshirt this season. Although his depleted roster is needful of bodies, Ray said there was no way could not let Wendell decide what is best for his own future.
“I got into this business to help kids,” said Ray. “I want to make sure I am doing everything I can to make sure they are a productive person on and off the court. I think that would be a selfish act from me if we have a situation where a young man has an opportunity to come back a full year than having him coming back to play just a few games.
“I couldn’t sleep with myself at night if I didn’t give him that opportunity. That would be very selfish of me.”
Coached by former Arkansas and NBA player Corliss Williamson, the Bears (4-4) of the Southland Conference saw a three-game win streak snapped Sunday in a 91-63 loss at No. 24 Oklahoma State. MSU is 3-6.
“Corliss Williamson played at Arkansas and is a Nolan Richardson disciple,” said Ray. “So we will see a lot of pressing and get their version of ‘40 minutes of hell’. If you look at our statistics, obviously it is the best thing to do against us and make us handle the ball against pressure.
“Then offensively for them, it is probably becoming a broken record but it’s a dribble-drive offense. Those guys will try to get into the paint and make individual plays and make us sink in so they can kick it out for threes. It is not much of a ball-screen offense and mostly a dribble-drive offense.”
For one MSU rookie, Saturday’s game in the Mississippi Coliseum will spark a special memory. The last time Fred Thomas stepped into that venue, he nailed a buzzer-beating, game-winning three-pointer against Tupelo in the Class 6A state championship game last March.
“It was definitely a memorable game for me,” said Thomas, who is averaging 11.4 points a game. “Going back down there I feel will be very special for me and I will have a bunch of family and friends there. But I also know I need to stay focused so we can win the game.”
And that means overcoming the loss of Lewis in the post. With his absence, junior Colin Borchert is expected to aid rookie Gavin Ware in the post along with his normal power forward duties.
“I think we just need to stay motivated and work hard with Coach,” said Borchert. “And just go out there and compete. We know we can handle that part so we have to go out there and compete.”
“With (Lewis) out it makes it a little bit tougher because he was really producing the last two games for us before he got hurt. But we have to step up and I have to play a little more at the five with Gavin (Ware). Stuff happens and we just have to work through it.”