STARKVILLE — Suddenly, the game everybody around the Mississippi State campus considered a throw-away game is critical.
MSU’s game against the University of South Alabama at 1 p.m. today will give the Bulldogs (1-1) an opportunity to regroup from a disheartening loss before they go to New York for two games in the 2K Classic Invitational.
“They are a good team. I know they always have a good team,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “We have to get ready after the quick turnaround and focus on South Alabama.”
For the third-straight season, MSU lost to a mid-major opponent before Thanksgiving. The latest loss came Monday in a 68-58 decision to Akron. MSU’s performance left Stansbury unable to explain his team’s lack of hustle and aggressiveness at home.
“We were never able to get control of the game, and our guys were a step slower,” Stansbury said. “Akron was faster and quicker to every loose ball than our team. We expended a lot of energy Monday chasing around Eastern Kentucky, but that is never an excuse.”
A key today will be MSU’s ability to contain sophomore forward Augustine Rubit, who was named the Sun Belt Conference’s Preseason Player of the Year earlier this month. Rubit is the team’s returning leader in scoring (13.1 points per game), rebounding (11), assists (25), steals (16), and blocked shots (31).
“Aug has gotten a lot stronger and more knowledgeable since last year,” South Alabama coach Ronnie Arrow said. “His biggest adjustment is getting more aggressive. He has to go out there every day and show people he’s as good as they say he is. To do that, you have to bring knowledge and energy. There’s no question in my mind he’s one of the top sophomores in the country. Now he has to go out and prove that.”
MSU will rely on the defense of freshman Rodney Hood. On Monday, the Bulldogs went to a smaller, three-guard lineup when Hood went to the bench. As a result, Akron 6-foot-6 junior forward Quincy Diggs was able to muscle around and pull up over smaller defenders en route to a 19-point effort.
MSU will play consecutive games in New York against Texas A&M, a
favorite in the Big 12 Conference, and Arizona or St. John’s that could result in slow start that would be difficult for the Bulldogs to overcome when it comes time for the NCAA tournament selection committee to select at-large teams.
Causing turnovers will be a focus as South Alabama has six new guards. The Jags must replace 155 of their 158 3-pointers from last year. Of the team’s six returnees, only Antione Lundy (two) and DeAndré Hersey (one) made a 3-pointer. USA ranked fourth in the conference in 3-pointers per game (4.6) in 2010-11.
Mychal Ammons, one of two freshmen on the team, was ranked 32nd among small forwards by ESPN.com and 26th by Scout.com, and received a three-star rating from Rivals.com when signed in November 2010.
“We have all of our post men back and all of our guards are brand
new,” Arrow said. “If you have your druthers, you’d rather have all of your guards back because they handle the ball most of the time. The posts run around and wait for the guards to get where they’re going. The guards are learning what it’s all about. Whenever you go somewhere it’s a whole new system. It’s always interesting to see how quickly the guards catch on.”