By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
NEW ORLEANS – Mississippi State has gotten better at finishing off games, and that could help it with some unfinished business today.
The Bulldogs (21-10) will open the SEC Tournament at 9 p.m. versus Georgia (14-16) at New Orleans Arena. The red-and-black Bulldogs are looking to beat MSU for the second time this season, having taken a 70-68 overtime win in Starkville on Feb. 11.
That set MSU on a five-game losing streak that it snapped out of only recently with wins over South Carolina and Arkansas. Senior point guard Dee Bost said the win at South Carolina was big for the team’s psyche.
“We dug in deep for that win. We needed that,” he said. “Because the previous games we were coming up short in overtime or close games. We needed a game like that to show we can win a close game.”
During the losing skid, MSU lost two games in overtime and blew double-digit leads against LSU and Kentucky. Fatigue appeared to factor in to the struggles, and injuries took a toll as well.
But the Bulldogs say things are different now.
“We got a win, and we’re getting some energy back to ourselves,” freshman guard Rodney Hood said. “We’ve got a lot of emotions going right now.”
Under the hood
Hood injured his left knee against Kentucky and missed the next game. He returned at South Carolina and has come off the bench since. He won’t start today, but he’ll play, and MSU most certainly needs his production.
Hood said Wednesday that his knee is “back to 100 percent,” although he’ll play with a brace on it just to be safe.
“I haven’t really gotten any contact with it yet, but right now it just feels good,” he said.
While MSU needs a healthy Hood, it also needs a better post effort than it got against Georgia last time. State was out-rebounded 40-33, as Georgia collected 18 offensive boards.
State is bigger in the frontcourt than UGA and is determined to take advantage of that. When asked about attacking in the post, MSU forward Arnett Moultrie said, “That’s the game plan. Coach (Rick) Stansbury said at practice earlier that we want to dominate inside.”
Georgia coach Mark Fox said earlier in the week that his team would make a concerted effort to find some post scoring, which means he’s looking for production from a frontcourt that doesn’t have anyone averaging double digits.
Georgia shot very well from outside in the first meeting, making 42.3 percent from 3-point range. Whether it can duplicate that effort is a key question.
There’s the added factor of MSU wanting revenge, something Bost said is on his mind.
“I don’t think revenge is much of a factor, really, at this level,” Fox said, “because guys are so competitive to try and win every game. …
“We know we’re going to have to play very complete. But I don’t think that the first game will have a lot to do with motivation for this one, because we both understand that it’s win or go home.”
For MSU, a loss today could keep it out of the NCAA tournament. So it’s a must-win game in that sense, too.
“That’s our mindset right now,” said Hood.