January 21, 2019 11:30:15 PM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State men's basketball coach Ben Howland knows the challenge will be great when his No. 22 Bulldogs face No. 8 Kentucky at 6 tonight in Southeastern Conference play at Rupp Arena.
However, he feels like limiting the Wildcats on the boards and keeping them off the free throw line will give his team a chance.
"(Kentucky is) really talented," Howland said. "They're always going to play good defense. They'll play different ways based on their team and their personnel. They're always good defensively, and they'll always take good shots. I think a big trademark is that they try and beat you up on the glass. Every year, Kentucky is always way up at the top in rebound margin. This year, there's no exception. They really try to pound you on the glass, and they get to the line 20 times a game plus. They're battle-tested. Every time they play anybody, it's that team's big game because you're playing the iconic Kentucky program and brand."
MSU (14-3, 2-2 SEC) remains on the road after a 71-55 win at Vanderbilt Saturday night. After winning 12 of 13 non-conference games, the start of Southeastern Conference play was tough with back--to-back losses by a combined nine points. MSU then beat Florida on the final play at home before taking to the road for a dominant performance at Vanderbilt.
The Bulldogs scored the game's first 10 points and held a sizable lead throughout the first half before Vanderbilt closed within eight at halftime.
Playing without point guard Lamar Peters for a large stretch due to foul trouble, the Bulldogs blew the contest open midway through the second half.
"(Playing without Peters) showed we had good resolve and that we had other guys step up," Howland said. "That was good. I think our two freshmen in particular played well on Saturday. Both Reggie (Perry) and Robert (Woodard II) played very well. They're playing good minutes. They're both very good for us and really helped us. I thought Tyson's (Carter) minutes increased. He always steps up to the challenge. I was excited for all of those guys. Nick (Weatherspoon) did a great job. Nick was phenomenal defensively with his energy and how much ground he covers. He was really impressive."
Back-to-back wins moved the Bulldogs up to No. 22 in both the Associated Press and USA Today rankings Monday. Kentucky (14-3, 4-1) also won twice last week (69-49 at Georgia and 82-80 at Auburn) to return to the Top 10 (No. 8 AP and No. 9 USA Today).
MSU will look for its sixth win in Lexington, Kentucky. Howland feels the Bulldogs will not be intimidated after winning at Dayton earlier this season and for a 10th time ever at Vanderbilt Saturday night.
"You know, it's funny," Howland said. "If you look at the history up there, I think it's the 10th win out of 57 tries for Mississippi State in that building. I'm impressed with that. We got a good, important win in a tough place to play, but I don't know if the history to our guys means a whole lot. They're 18, 19 and 20-years-old. I don't know if they relate to it as much as I do as you get older. It's pretty significant. Any road win is significant. To win there with the history and tradition of their success in that building was special."
MSU will host No. 16 Auburn (13-4, 2-2) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Humphrey Coliseum.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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