February 18, 2009
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State Bulldogs will try to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season.
To prevent that from happening, the Bulldogs have to beat one of the hottest teams in the Southeastern Conference.
Mississippi State will attempt to get back on track at 7 tonight when it plays host to the South Carolina Gamecocks at Humphrey Coliseum.
South Carolina (18-5, 7-3 SEC) has won six of its past seven games.
"They are probably the team to beat in the East," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "They''ve got two road wins and no home losses. (South Carolina coach) Darrin (Horn) has done a good job of taking that personnel and putting them in the right places."
Junior point guard Devan Downey (19.9 points per game, 4.4 assists per game) leads the Gamecocks.
Stansbury said Downey has the ability to do whatever he wants on the court.
"Downey is the best in this league and one of the best in this country of getting into the paint, finishing plays, or creating for other people," Stansbury said. "He''s that good, and now he''s shooting the basketball 36 percent from the 3-point line. No one has had any magic on how to slow him down. They are a much better team than they were last year."
Horn has transformed a team that finished 14-18 and 5-11 in the SEC last season.
Helping Downey on the perimeter are senior Zam Fredrick (15.6 ppg.) and sophomore Sam Muldrow (6.3 ppg., 5.3 rpg.).
Junior Dominique Archie (11.7 ppg., 6.7 rpg.) starts at forward, while sophomore Mike Holmes (11.3 ppg., 7.8 rpg.) starts at center for the Gamecocks.
Mississippi State will counter with a four-guard look of sophomore Phil Turner (8.2 ppg.), freshman Dee Bost (11 ppg.), junior Barry Stewart (11.4 ppg.), and sophomore Ravern Johnson (12.1 ppg.).
Junior center Jarvis Varnado leads Mississippi State in scoring (13.4 ppg.) and rebounding (9.3 rpg.).
"Mississippi State is extremely dangerous," Horn said. "They shoot the ball unbelievably well with multiple guys from the perimeter."
MSU (16-9, 6-4) has cooled from beyond the 3-point arc. After making 35 percent (30 of 56) from long range in wins against Kentucky and Arkansas, the Bulldogs shot 20 percent (15 of 59) from 3-point range in losses to LSU and Auburn.
Horn understands that slump might only be temporary.
"On some nights, shots are going to fall more than others," Horn said. "Obviously because they''ve been so good at it, I''m sure opponents are a little more aware of trying to take that away. The danger for a team that shoots it as well as they do, it could turn around and go their way in a hurry."
n Tennessee at Ole Miss, 7 tonight: Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy was encouraged by the way his team battled SEC Western Division leading LSU in a 73-66 loss, but he wants his team to build on that experience.
Ole Miss (13-11, 4-6) has goals that don''t involve the postseason.
"We''re trying to be most improved team in our league, and that''s still our goal," Kennedy said. "We''re so fragile in a number of areas that we don''t talk about postseason tournaments."
Ole Miss has experienced an up-and-down season after losing guards Trevor Gaskins, Eniel Polynice, and Chris Warren to knee injuries.
Kennedy has found production from junior guard David Huertas (19.1 ppg.). Huertas'' scoring average is on pace to be highest for an Ole Miss player since 1972.
Ole Miss'' SEC Freshman of the Year candidate Terrico White made three 3-pointers and scored 13 points against LSU.
"To lose three guards and to remain as competitive as they are is a real testament to Andy''s ability to recruit," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said.
Tennessee (16-8, 7-3) is tied with Kentucky and South Carolina at the top of the SEC Eastern Division.
Junior Tyler Smith, who is ranked seventh in the conference at 17.7 points per game, leads Tennessee.
"Tyler Smith is multi-talented and a very difficult matchup in our league," Kennedy said.
n Alabama at Florida, 6 tonight: The Alabama Crimson Tide might have lost four out of five games with interim coach Philip Pearson at the helm, but the Florida Gators still admire the way they go about their business.
Florida coach Billy Donovan does not feel very much has changed from when Mark Gottfried was in charge at Alabama.
"There may be certain things they may be doing a little bit differently, but you have a system in place and Philip has been with Mark a long period of time," Donovan said. "I''m sure he''s got a belief in what they are doing. There may be some things as an assistant you feel you can tweak or add, but I think for the most part what they are doing is what they''ve done this entire year. They are playing hard and competing. They are in every game and have a chance to win."
Alabama (13-11, 3-7) lost to South Carolina 75-73 on a basket by Mike Holmes as time expired.
Pearson has adjusted the lineup due to a hip injury to freshman forward JaMychal Green and an illness to sophomore guard Senario Hillman. He used junior guard Anthony Brock as a starter against the Gamecocks, but he doesn''t know if that will continue.
Alabama senior guard Alonzo Gee (14.4 ppg.) scored 18 points against South Carolina and has Donovan''s respect.
"He''s a great player who has been in this league for a long time," Donovan said.
Sophomore guard Nick Calathes (18.6 ppg.) leads Florida (19-6, 6-4).
If Florida wins, it would reach the 20-victory mark for the 11th straight season, which would be the second-longest streak of 20-win seasons in SEC history by one coach, and the longest at one school.
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