By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Baxter Price’s coaches and teammates want to see him score a basket. Price just wants to go out a winner.
The walk-on guard will be the lone Mississippi State senior recognized today prior to the regular-season finale against Auburn (4:30 p.m., FSN). Price has played more this season than ever before, becoming a key reserve on a very thin roster.
This season, he’s played 90 minutes. In his previous three years, Price got a grand total of 19 minutes. Offseason attrition, injuries and suspensions have forced Price into action, and while he doesn’t fill up the stat sheet, he’s been valuable to first-year coach Rick Ray.
“The evolution of Baxter Price as a player has been really good to watch,” Ray said.
With guard Jalen Steele out due to a knee injury, Price will most certainly play today. MSU (8-21, 3-14 SEC) has only seven players available.
And when Price gets the ball, State fans will, as always, urge him to shoot it. He probably won’t listen.
“I’d like to set our guys up with an opportunity to score the basketball whichever way,” Price said. “Whoever scores it is fine with me.”
Today against Auburn (9-21, 3-14), MSU will need to get its scoring from the likes of center Gavin Ware. The 6-foot-9 freshman is averaging 8.8 points per game and was hard on himself following Wednesday’s 79-72 loss to South Carolina.
Ware had only two shot attempts, making them both, and finished with six points. He said he didn’t play hard enough and had a bad mindset.
“I just was too casual and relaxed,” Ware said. “I didn’t come into the game thinking that playing hard would be best for me; I tried to save myself. I kind of felt that at the end of the game that I was holding back from the team and not giving them my all.
“But come Auburn, that will change.”
Don’t finish last
Ware has another strong motivation to play well today: The loser of this game will finish last in the SEC standings. Ware said coaches talked about their desire to avoid that indignity.
“Like coach said, our swag will be high (if we win). So we’ll just come out and play better,” Ware said.
Despite the loss to South Carolina, Ware said the Bulldogs are feeling confident. They beat Ole Miss a week ago, and against the Gamecocks cut a 22-point deficit to five points in the second half despite losing Steele mid-rally.
MSU has had a tendency to drop its collective head when things go awry.
“But since we have matured so much,” Ware said, “we found ways to not put our head down but to compete even more to even try to make a comeback.”