A young team like Mississippi State can have a fragile psyche. In fact, that’s a word Ray used following the Bulldogs’ 73-67 upset of Ole Miss on Saturday, which snapped a 13-game losing streak. One more loss would have tied the school record for longest losing skid and would have marked the first time since 1998 that the Rebels swept a season series from MSU (8-20, 3-13 SEC).
Ray said he thought his players would be too “fragile” to handle the weight of such ignominy.
On the other end of the spectrum, beating Ole Miss could provide a big confidence boost for MSU as it closes out the regular season with games this week against South Carolina and Auburn. And perhaps there can be carry-over into next week’s SEC Tournament.
Winning both games could place State as high as the No. 12 tourney seed. But again, Ray isn’t going to try to get into his players’ heads.
“The one thing you’ve got to be careful about is no matter what happens, we’re still playing on the first day,” Ray said Monday. “So what you don’t want to do is use something as a motivational ploy, and then you lose that game, and now it’s like, what do they have to play for?
“I’m not big into that. I’m like, hey, it’s a basketball game, you should try to win it.”
Ray has kept his focus each week on making sure the players know the game plan, and just let the big picture play itself out. There was no inspirational speech before the Ole Miss game, but Ray did talk about the offensive success MSU had in the first meeting as well as what they needed to do to better guard Marshall Henderson.
It worked. The Bulldogs shot 41.7 percent and held Henderson to 4-of-19 shooting.
One thing Ray knows about the psychology of this MSU team is that it’s a resilient bunch.
“We had lost 13 straight games there, and our guys could have pitched it in and not given the effort and packed up the season,” he said, “but the guys came out and played hard, executed the game plan well and just went out and played with a lot of heart.”