By John Pitts / NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi State fans probably went to bed on Thursday night feeling better about their men’s basketball team.
The Bulldogs had just beaten San Diego 69-52 at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, as 6-foot-10 sophomore Renardo Sidney – in only his second game for the team after a prolonged effort to gain his eligibility – scored 19 points in just 20 minutes of play and looked as if he could emerge as a badly needed force inside.
With Sidney finally eligible to play and standout guard Dee Bost slated to return from a nine-game suspension in early January, the Bulldogs could well be the class of a weak-looking SEC Western Division.
But those same fans arose Friday to some confounding news: Sidney and teammate Elgin Bailey – roommates and friends – were caught on ESPN’s cameras as they fought each other in the stands before the tournament’s nightcap game.
Sidney and Bailey’s fight took place about 11:30 p.m. Central Time. By 1 a.m., Sidney’s name was among the top 10 trending topics worldwide on Twitter and the footage of their fight was being shown every half hour on ESPNews.
About 14 hours later, Sidney and Bailey – a team captain – were suspended indefinitely by the school. Then they were sent home – on separate planes.
“Our athletic staff, coaches and student-athletes have a responsibility to conduct themselves in a manner that brings credit and honor to our university,” MSU athletic director Scott Stricklin said in a statement issued Friday afternoon. “The actions that took place Thursday night in Hawaii were embarrassing to all of us who love Mississippi State University and our athletic program. This behavior will not be tolerated.”
Stricklin first announced the suspensions on Twitter.
Sidney and Bailey, a 6-foot-8 junior, will be sidelined for at least two games – Saturday’s loss to Hawaii and a Wednesday game in Las Vegas against St. Mary’s (Calif.).
It’s a huge blow for the Bulldogs (8-5), who are now without two of their best frontcourt players. Sidney, 21, one of the most highly recruited players of the 2009 class, averaged 15.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in his first two college games. Bailey, 23, had started 10 out of MSU first 11 games and averaged 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounds.
“The length of the suspensions will be determined by the actions of Elgin and Renardo moving forward,” according to the official announcement issued by the school. “The situation will be reassessed when the team and coaching staff return to campus.”
Sidney missed the team’s first game in Hawaii due to a one-game suspension by head coach Rick Stansbury.
In a statement released by the university, coach Rick Stansbury expressed his disappointment.
“In my 13 years as a head coach, we’ve never had anything like this happen before,” he said. “I am very disappointed in the actions of Elgin Bailey and Renardo Sidney and in no way does it reflect the overall picture of our program. It is not how we want our men’s basketball team to be viewed nationally.”
ESPN basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb, who was on the sidelines for the Diamond Head Classic, suggested that Stansbury might be close to finally cutting ties with Sidney.
Said Gottlieb: “It would be my guess that Rick Stansbury washes his hands of him, because he considered it after the incident,” reportedly in practice, that led to last week’s one-game suspension.
It’s unclear what provoked the fistfight in the stands, although Gottlieb said it started when Bailey wouldn’t move to let Sidney get past him to go to the concession stand.
Bost, on his Twitter account, messaged Gottlieb that “It’s just bad that renardo has to go through this. Teammates say he didn’t start it.”
Bost did not travel with the team.
Both Sidney and Bailey issued contrite statements through the university on Friday.
“I’m very sorry for this incident,” Sidney said in his statement. “I had no intention of this ever happening. I apologize for embarrassing my family, all the Mississippi State fans, my teammates and coaches.
“I will learn from this and move on.”
Sidney’s Twitter account, which has been closely watched by reporters covering the team, was changed sometime soon after the incident to restrict the viewing of his comments.
Bailey’s statement: “I want to apologize to Mississippi State, to the people in Hawaii and to the fans that were in the stands that witnessed everything. Due to me being a captain, I should have handled the situation in a much different way. It should have never gotten to the point that it did. I really am sorry that all of this happened, especially with it unfolding on TV like it did.”
The fight with his teammate was the latest in a string of issues for Sidney, who battled with the NCAA to gain his eligibility. The NCAA ruled last March he had to repay $11,800 in improper benefits and sit out the remainder of the 2010 season and nine more games this season.
Contact John L. Pitts at 678-1522