January 18, 2013 11:29:38 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE --Rick Ray knows what he's going to see Saturday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena.
In his first matchup with his good friend, University of Tennessee coach Counzo Martin, Ray hopes his Mississippi State University men's basketball team is prepared to give a much better effort than the one it delivered in its last game. On Wednesday, the University of Alabama routed MSU 75-43 at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville. The loss abruptly snapped MSU's two-game winning streak in the Southeastern Conference, and set the stage for MSU (7-8, 2-1) to prove it won't be outworked and outhustled against Tennessee at 3 p.m. Saturday (WCBI).
Ray, MSU's first-year coach, was an assistant coach with Martin on head coach Matt Painter's coaching staff at Purdue University from 2007-08. The Boilermakers were 47-21 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament both seasons.
"Rick is a hard-working, intelligent basketball coach who really has a passion for the game," Martin said April 1 when Ray was hired. "But, more importantly, it is a great move by the MSU administration, which did its homework and reached out to a qualified coach who will represent the university in the right way."
Ray knows the Volunteers (8-7, 0-3) will compete despite the fact they are winless in the league.
"I know Counzo Martin and they are going to compete," Ray said Wednesday night after the loss to Alabama. "It's not going to be an X-and-O situation. It's going to be a question of are you ready to play competitive basketball?"
Martin grew up in the lower income area of East St. Louis and honed his hard-nosed mentality as a starting guard at Purdue from 1991-95. He went on to become the fifth Division I head coach to come out of the Gene Keady coaching tree, following Bruce Weber, Steve Lavin, Kevin Stallings, and Painter.
Last season, Martin's first as head coach after spending three seasons as coach at Missouri State, Tennessee went from ninth to fifth in the SEC in scoring defense thanks to a physical style of play despite accumulating the 11th most fouls in the conference.
Ray hopes MSU will challenge Tennessee with a similar approach. He has tried to implement a tenacious style of play that revolves around working hard on defense and sharing the basketball in a motion offense. That mind-set will be put the test in the first game after a 32-point loss that was MSU's second largest in the history of Humphrey Coliseum.
"We've been beaten badly before, but I didn't feel we competed in one aspect of the game tonight," Ray said. "The defense faltered because we were giving the ball to them. I also thought we played as individuals instead of as a team."
Ray said Wednesday he can't discipline his squad as much as he'd like after a game in which he thought it played with a lack of effort because he and his coaching staff only have two days to prepare for the next game.
"With the way the schedule is, you have a quick turnaround," Ray said. "You can't go hard (Thursday) no matter how bad you lost because you have to be smart about the fact you only have eight guys you're playing. It's more so a mental preparation and then physical preparation Friday."
MSU players sensed practice today would be less than a enjoyable experience.
"I guess we shouldn't have come out and played like that," MSU junior guard Jalen Steele, who is from Knoxville, Tenn. "Fatigue may have played a role, but we should've fought through it and played harder than we did tonight."
MSU will try to beat Tennessee for the third time in a row for the first time since winning four in a row from 1994-96. The Bulldogs also are seeking to win back-to-back games in Knoxville for the first time since 1978-79.