STARKVILLE • Emotions will likely be running rampant inside Humphrey Coliseum this afternoon.
Mississippi State is closing out its regular season and saying goodbye to three seniors, all while trying to position itself in postseason tournaments and playing against in-state archrival Ole Miss at 5:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.
“This is our last home game of the year against a team that it’s most important for us to win against,” said MSU coach Ben Howland. “We want to play our best for a lot of reasons.”
The Bulldogs (19-11, 10-7) certainly did not have a good outing against Ole Miss (15-15, 6-11 SEC) in Oxford on Feb. 11. The Rebels routed MSU 83-58, outscoring the Bulldogs 50-24 in the second half in a game where Howland referred to his team’s defense as “horrendous.”
“That definitely left a bad taste in our mouth,” said MSU forward Robert Woodard II. “Going into that game, it’s obviously not what we expected to happen. After the game you just have to move forward knowing that we will have another chance to see them.
“We just have to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Ole Miss senior guard Breein Tyree scored 40 points in that contest and is averaging 20.9 points in seven career games against State. He made 13 of 22 from the field, including four 3-pointers, and converted 10 of 11 from the free-throw line last time out against the Bulldogs.
“He’s just a great player and a guy I think will be playing this game for a long time to come and be very successful,” Howland said. “We’ve got some things that we’ll try to do a little different.”
State also committed 17 turnovers the last time out against the Rebels’ 1-3-1 halfcourt trap. Those turnovers led to 27 points on the other end for Ole Miss.
“We’ve had a chance to work on (breaking the trap) the past couple of days in preparation,” Howland said. “So I think we’ll do a better job of attacking it better. We’ll have a better idea of what we’re doing.”
The Bulldogs enter today as the No. 6 seed for next week’s SEC Tournament in Nashville but could still end up with a double-bye at the event with Florida, Auburn and LSU log-jammed with identical 11-6 league records.
MSU holds a head-to-head win against the Gators but lost to both breeds of Tigers. The Bulldogs are currently behind South Carolina, which is also 10-7, in the standings due to the Gamecocks holding a win over SEC champion Kentucky.
Howland, however, is focused on the task at hand and will not be scoreboard watching today.
“I’m just concerned about us, that’s all we can control,” Howland said.