Skidding Bulldogs visit Gators

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

Craig Sword says Mississippi State has a short memory. It’ll need one today.
It was just two weeks ago that Florida came to Starkville and laid a 82-47 whipping on the Bulldogs. The teams meet again at 4 p.m. today in Gainesville, as the Bulldogs (7-14, 2-7 SEC) try to snap a seven-game losing streak against the No. 2 team in the land.
MSU is coming off a 93-75 loss to rival Ole Miss on Wednesday. Sword, a freshman guard who scored 17 points in that game, said his team has the ability to forget the bad and move forward.
“We’ve been doing it the whole year. We’ve just got to move on to the next game,” he said.
The Bulldogs would do well to remember what went wrong last time they played Florida (18-3, 8-1) and fix those issues. The Gators dominated on the boards, 44-20, and shot 55.4 percent from the floor. They grabbed a 31-8 lead in the first half and never looked back.
“We just need to share the ball and start off hard instead of starting off slow,” Sword said. “We need to get an early lead.”
Fast starts were actually something MSU did well in close losses to Texas A&M and LSU. But Ole Miss staked a 42-23 halftime lead against State, which scored 52 points in the second half.
Putting two solid halves together in the same game has been a consistent struggle during this losing skid. A reasonable excuse for that is the inexperience of this team.
“Our freshmen are thrust into positions that they shouldn’t be in,” MSU coach Rick Ray said. “Instead of, like, Fred Thomas, Craig Sword and all those guys playing 30 minutes a game, they should be playing 15-20 minutes a game.”
Sword said it’s simply a matter of playing together, but he also admitted that’s easier said than done. The focus, he said, is two-fold: “Share the ball and play defense, team defense.”
As for Sword’s play, he’s picked up his offensive productivity a bit, averaging 14.0 points over the last two games. MSU hasn’t had a anyone act as a consistent scoring presence in SEC play.
Sword has come the closest, with a team-best six double-digit scoring games in league play.
“I’ve been taking my time and being patient like coach told me,” he said.
Florida is coming off its first SEC loss of the year, 80-69 at Arkansas on Tuesday. The Gators lost key reserve Will Yeguete that night, and he’s out for the year with a knee injury. He had eight rebounds against MSU, so his absence could aid the Bulldogs.
Or not. Florida is a 28-point favorite.
brad.locke@journalinc.com