Road no easier for weary Bulldogs

January 25, 2013 12:31:18 AM

Matthew Stevens - mstevens@cdispatch.com

 

STARKVILLE -- After turning over the basketball a season-high 29 times against the University of Arkansas pressure defense, the reward for Mississippi State University is the run and jump press of the eighth-ranked University of Florida. 

 

Mississippi State coach Rick Ray can see the work that he and his staff had put into this program after a three-game winning streak. 

 

"You can't win a game when you turn the ball over 29 times," Ray said. "They shot 49 percent from the field, but a lot of those were layups caused by the turnovers. Our defense is beginning to slide downhill. Even when the defense is set, they are not locked in. We have things that need to be fixed." 

 

Not exactly something the first-year head coach wants to see with his inexperienced and immature basketball team right now. 

 

"The thing that's so concerning to me is I just thought we didn't make simple basketball plays," Ray said after the 96-70 loss Wednesday night to the Razorbacks. 

 

In the 26-point loss at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Ark., MSU allowed 40 points off their turnovers to completely change the momentum of the game and create a lot of easy lay-ins and touches in the paint for Arkansas. 

 

"It's always concerning," Ray said. "We're last in the SEC in assist-to-turnover margin. We're in the bottom ten in the nation as far as assist-to-turnover margin. It's a concern when we play anybody, especially a team like Arkansas that pressures and presses." 

 

Florida (15-2, 5-0) has a trio of experienced guard in senior Kenny Boynton, senior Mike Rosario and junior Scottie Wilbekin all leading that full-court press that has made Gators head coach Billy Donovan famous as the longest tenured coach in the Southeastern Conference. 

 

Saturday night's matchup (7 p.m., ESPN2) matches up two drastically different styles as MSU (7-10, 2-3) will try to keep the game in a walk-it-up, halfcourt affair by mixing up their defenses from zone to man to avoid early foul trouble problems. 

 

"Coach D said defensively they're really good because they switch defenses a lot," Florida sophomore forward Will Yeguete said. "They'll play 2-3 zone and a 1-3-1. It's going to be a different kid of team we haven't faced yet." 

 

As the dean of SEC coaches, Donovan said Thursday he likes what he sees from MSU on film in terms of the intangible categories involved in changing a program's culture -- the exact course of action that was involved in the move to Ray by MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin. 

 

"I've got a lot of respect for the way Coach Ray's teams play," Donovan said. "They're very aggressive 

 

and play very hard. They've got a lot of depth in the backcourt. They play extremely hard." 

 

For Ray right now it's all about the tangible aspects of his young players like freshman guard Craig 

 

Sword, who got his average of 10 points per game this week at Arkansas but also paired that with a 

 

career-high nine turnovers against the Hogs tight defensive attack. 

 

"Sword has a high turnover rate regardless of youth," Ray said. "I think he's going to be a good player. 

 

He's a guy that can attack the defense and make some slashing plays but he just has to reduce his 

 

turnovers. A lot of times he's playing the point guard spot and he's not a natural point guard." 

 

The last time Florida came to Starkville was to face a struggling .500 team that eventually knocked off 

 

a Gators team 71-64 that made to the National finals of the NCAA Tournament.