December 30, 2014 10:39:49 AM
STARKVILLE -- For the first time in more than a month, Mississippi State's basketball team has a chance to establish a winning streak.
A 70-47 victory against Jacksonville on Dec. 23 gave MSU (6-5) a chance to continue its winning ways at 7 tonight when it plays host to McNeese State.
"They key is to make sure this is the start of something good," MSU coach Rick Ray said the Jacksonville game. "It's good to go into the break with momentum. Those two games next week are huge for us to get going in the right direction again."
MSU opened the season 5-0 thanks to victories against mid-major programs like Utah State and St. Louis. But MSU lost its next five games and bottomed out in back-to-back losses to Arkansas State and South Carolina-Upstate. The victory against Jacksonville gave MSU a boost entering its Christmas break. Now it's time to get build momentum for the start of the Southeastern Conference season, which will begin at 8 p.m. Jan. 7, 2015, against Tennessee at Humphrey Coliseum. MSU will play host to Florida State at 7 p.m. Friday in its final non-conference game.
"We needed it," MSU guard Fred Thomas said of the win against Jacksonville. "Now we have to keep it going."
Thomas had a team-high 16 points in the victory. He's second on the team in scoring this season (11.9 points per game). Senior forward Roquez Johnson, who has come off the bench in three of MSU's past four games, leads the team in scoring (12.2 ppg.) and rebounding (5.9 per game).
Emerging from the Jacksonville game two days before Christmas, Ray was wary of his team's one-week break between games.
"It's good to have this right before Christmas so we can go into the holidays on a good note," Ray said. "But, at the same time, our guys will have three days off after finally playing well tonight. I think it will be on them to make sure they are in a gym somewhere getting better. That way they can avoid rust building up because the one thing I don't want over the break is for this team to lose what we went out and earned tonight."
McNeese State (5-5) is coming off back-to-back losses against Toledo and Central Michigan. Desharick Guidry averages 17 points and 12.6 rebounds per game. Kevin Hardy (11.5 ppg.) and Keelan Garrett (10.4) also average double digits for the Cowboys.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat
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