Any coach will tell you that every game is important.
For Ben Howland and Mississippi State, right now the seven games remaining in the regular season are crucial if the Bulldogs are to secure a spot in the Big Dance for the second-straight year. That stretch begins at Arkansas today at noon on the SEC Network.
“We’ve obviously got to finish here strong to have an opportunity to get into the NCAA Tournament,” Howland said.
Those games grew more critical for MSU following an 83-58 loss at Ole Miss on Tuesday. The Bulldogs let a 13-point lead slip away and were outscored 50-24 in the second half.
“We’re obviously disappointed with how we played and how we performed,” Howland said. “We’ve got to put that one behind us and move on to the next game and not let that beat us twice.”
The Bulldogs play four of their next six games on the road before closing out the regular season with a rematch against Ole Miss in Starkville on March 7.
“We’ll have another shot to play them again and I think (the players) know that,” Howland said. “We’ll get a chance to redeem ourselves.”
State slid from 41 to 48 in the NET Rankings immediately following the loss to the Rebels and enter today’s game against Arkansas at No. 51.
“We’ve got a lot of important games and the biggest one right now is obviously (today) in Fayetteville against Arkansas,” Howland said. “They’re very talented and very difficult to beat on their home floor in particular. It’s sold out and they have a great atmosphere there.
“We’re going to have to play really well to have success.”
Mississippi State (15-9, 6-5 SEC) won the previous meeting with the Razorbacks 77-70 on Jan. 22 in Starkville. Sophomore forward Reggie Perry provided the Bulldogs with 26 points and 13 rebounds in that contest.
MSU also did a stellar job of holding Arkansas’ top player, Isaiah Joe, to just five points on 2 of 13 shooting in that game but surrendered 20 points apiece to Jimmy Whitt Jr. and Mason Jones.
Arkansas (16-8, 4-7) has been without Joe since the sophomore guard underwent knee surgery on Feb. 4. The Hogs are 0-3 in his absence including overtime losses to Auburn and Missouri.
“They’re a little different in that they’re playing bigger,” Howland said. “With Isaiah Joe they were playing four guards a lot and playing really small. With him out, they’re playing bigger than they were before. They’ll still play four guards and do that for at least half the game but it’s not like it was before when it was typically all of the game.”
Arkansas is also coming off a lopsided 82-61 road loss to Tennessee on Tuesday.