SEC Basketball Tourney: It’s the last chance for MSU to amp up

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

It’s not so much something Phil Turner does; it’s just what he is.
The Mississippi State junior has rightfully earned the label of “energy guy,” the player who can check into a game and give his team a boost during critical moments, whether with his tenacious defense, his 3-point shooting or just his general demeanor of unbridled enthusiasm.
That latter quality seems to have been lacking for the Bulldogs of late. Entering today’s SEC Tournament quarterfinal game against Florida, there is concern that the defending tourney champs aren’t adequately juiced for another run.
In its final two regular season games, MSU lost to Auburn, 89-80, and No. 15 Tennessee, 75-59.
In the UT loss, State fell behind 17-0 and never recovered, and Turner still doesn’t know what happened.
“I really don’t know how to answer that question,” Turner said. “I don’t feel like we were flat or were lacking energy, I just felt like Tennessee just came out a little better prepared than we did.”
Well, the plan this weekend is for that not to happen again. Having fallen off the NCAA tournament bubble last week, the only way the Bulldogs (21-10) can assure themselves of a berth is by winning the SEC title.
And to do that, they probably need a little more of Turner-like intensity in their approach.
Even coach Rick Stansbury admitted earlier this week, “Phil is the only guy we could go to to change the emotion.”
Only it’s not that simple. Turner is not a vending machine that distributes energy drinks to those in need.
“I feel like that it’s something that comes natural for me, not so much of actually thinking that this is what I’m doing,” he said. “I just feel like it’s part of my personality. I don’t put too much thought into it, I just kind of let it happen.
“To say I take it on as a role, I don’t think I can say that.”

Eager to play
Nevertheless, the more Turner is on the floor, the more he’s likely to be a spark for State.
He played 23 minutes against Tennessee, scoring eight points, but in the three games prior to that, he logged a grand total of 24 minutes and was scoreless.
He’s averaging 5.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 20.2 minutes per game this year.
He misses the starting role he had last season, and while he doesn’t complain about it, Turner finds it hard to hide his eagerness to play a bigger part.
“I just feel like I’ve got to get in the game,” he said. “I feel like I contribute when I get in.”
The bench as a whole, despite its lack of depth, needs to become a bigger factor in Nashville this weekend. Over MSU’s last three games, the reserves have scored a total of 13 points.
Last season, bench play was critical in winning the tournament.
“Our starting five cannot do it by itself; our bench is going to be a key,” center Jarvis Varnado said.
Despite the Bulldogs’ recent struggles, Turner is upbeat about what lies ahead. He said the rest of the team feels the same way.
“We feel like we can do it, there’s no doubt that we can go in and win three games,” Turner said. “This year the guys’ attitudes are still positive in regards of making it to the tournament and going to the SEC Tournament and winning it so we can go dancing.”

Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or brad.locke@djournal.com.