STARKVILLE – There has been something lacking with Mississippi State’s basketball team, and there’s not much time to find it.
The Bulldogs, who are 2-1 entering today’s 7 p.m. game against Texas-Pan American (0-4), hit the road this weekend for a pair of games at the South Padre Island Invitational in Texas. MSU will take on Richmond in the Friday game and then either Old Dominion or Missouri on Saturday.
Seven of MSU’s 11 remaining non-SEC games are on the road.
“We have been playing down to our competition,” point guard Dee Bost said Monday. “Coach always says, treat every game as if we were playing the No. 1 team in the nation, play the same way day in and day out.”
MSU dropped its season opener to a solid Rider team and has since defeated Southeastern Louisiana (82-67) and Bethune-Cookman (67-51).
Senior center Jarvis Varnado said the Bulldogs need to play with more emotion. Junior Phil Turner said they might be subconsciously pacing themselves too much, because of a thin bench.
“Right now I’d say it’s moving slow,” Bost said of the offense. “It ain’t moving like we want it to move. We ain’t knocking down as many shots as we normally knock down.”
Bost, who’s averaging 11.3 points and 4.3 assists per game, is playing with a strained groin muscle. That might have something to do with it, but coach Rick Stansbury said the struggles are team-wide.
“I don’t think any of us are smooth rhythm-wise,” Stansbury said. “That’s just different lineups we’ve had, different personnel, and just trying to basically play some guys to rest some people. I don’t think our rhythm is great.”
On the injury front, reserve guard Riley Benock is steadily working himself back into the rotation, while reserve forward Elgin Bailey continues to be hampered by his ankle. That’s hindered the bench rotation.
When State heads to Texas, Stansbury expects to get a better idea what this squad, ranked No. 18 in the preseason but unranked now, is made of, especially the enigma that is the MSU bench.
“That’s my biggest dilemma right now. It’s not those starting five,” Stansbury said. “Where we’re at with that, how settled we are with that, and where our productivity is, and where our chemistry is, that’s totally unsettled.”
– Junior forward Kodi Augustus is set to return tonight after his two-game suspension. He was benched for his criticism of Stansbury following the season-opening loss to Rider.
Augustus was a starter in that game, but Stansbury wouldn’t say if he’ll start tonight. Turner is listed on the game notes as the starter.
But Stansbury made no secret that Augustus is needed.
“The one thing we’ve got to continue to always do is get Kodi some easier shots around that basket, around that paint, where Jarvis is not our only post-up guy.”
Sidney handling it well
– Freshman Renardo Sidney, the 6-10 freshman phenom who can’t play while the NCAA investigates his amateur status, won’t be able to travel with the Bulldogs to road games. That separation from the team concerns Stansbury, but he said Sidney has handled the situation well so far.
“You know it’s tough mentally to push through some things that you’ve never pushed through before, when you didn’t have this cloud around you,” Stansbury said. “That makes it exceptionally tough. To his credit, he’s done it about as well or better than most people could handle it.”
Holidays at the Hump
– Tonight’s game against Texas-Pan American is the first of four MSU home games that will grant free admission to all Mississippi high school and middle school boys and girls basketball teams. The other games are St. Bonaventure (Dec. 5), Wright State (Dec. 16) and Mississippi Valley State (Dec. 28).
All coaches, players and bus drivers are invited and must attend as a group. Coaches are asked to fax their roster, along with the names of coaches and the bus driver, to 325-3648 no later than noon on game day.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal