By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Jalen Steele feels like his old self again.
Mississippi State’s junior guard has played four games since returning from a fractured wrist, which kept him out of action for nearly seven weeks. In Saturday’s 72-61 win at Georgia, Steele scored a career-high 21 points, making 7 of 16 shots and 4 of 8 from 3-point range.
“That Georgia game, I really felt back to normal. Everything felt good,” Steele said Monday. “The shape that I was in during that game, it felt very good. Just everything (is) clicking right now for me.”
Just three days earlier, Steele was cramping up in both legs against South Carolina. He was limited to seven minutes in the second half of that game and finished with four points on 2 of 8 shooting.
Coach Rick Ray took measures to make sure that didn’t happen again, and they paid off.
“I thought Jalen started to see some opportunities for himself by the way he cut and the way he moved,” Ray said. “And I thought also our guys did a great job of going and finding bodies of guys he was screening.”
Steele is a huge piece for this team and easily the most experienced. If State (7-7) hopes to build on its 2-0 start in the SEC, it will need Steele to keep playing this way.
“We were playing defense well, we were playing offense well,” Ray said of the Georgia game. “But at the end of the day, Jalen Steele rolls up and makes some huge shots for us, and that gave us our cushion that we needed.”
Sword should play
Freshman guard Craig Sword hasn’t been practicing lately because of a sprained ankle, but Ray expects him to be available for Wednesday’s home game against Alabama (8 p.m., CSS).
He’s wearing a protective boot and will be limited this week.
“He should be able to play, but how effective he is continues to be a concern,” Ray said.
Sword missed two practices last week, but with a heavy wrap and a brace on his left ankle, the 6-foot-3 guard scored 16 points against Georgia.
He said Monday that the ankle is “all right” and will be getting lots of treatment.
Threes finally fall
After missing all 10 of its 3-point shots against South Carolina, MSU made 9 of 20 against Georgia. Ray thinks taking better shots is paying off.
“Towards the beginning of the season they were taking contested threes, but I felt like in the last few games that they’ve been taking good 3-point shots, they just haven’t been going in,” he said. “So to see those guys have the success with the 3-point shot, it bodes well for hopefully some confidence for the rest of the season.”
MSU is hitting 27.8 percent from behind the arc.