STARKVILLE — The last thing Rick Stansbury needed was more injury questions.
The 14-year coach of Mississippi State University men’s basketball has already lost back-to-back games to average teams and is struggling to maintain much consistency entering the critical portion of the 2011-12 campaign.
Now the roadblock in his way to a postseason invitation are nagging injuries to the two frontcourt stars he’s forced to count on to turn around the Bulldogs (19-7, 6-5 in Southeastern Conference) negative slide.
Junior forward Arnett Moultrie is dealing with a left shoulder injury that the 6-foot-10 leading scorer and rebounder on the MSU squad (16.5 ppg, 10.8 rpg) suffered in the 69-67 overtime loss at Louisiana State University.
Stansbury told the Dispatch in a phone interview Thursday evening that Moultrie did not participate in full-contact action but was able to continue shooting and conditioning work in preparation for their trip to Auburn for a 7 p.m. tip against the Tigers (13-12, 3-8) today.
“I would say he’s closer to probable than possible,” Stansbury said.
“He absolutely wants to play, that’s for sure and I don’t question his effort.”
Moultrie had 21 points and seven rebounds in MSU’s first meeting with Auburn, against his former coach at the University of Texas at El Paso Tony Barbee.
MSU junior center Renardo Sidney sat out the entire Thursday practice with back spasms, which he also experienced prior to the LSU game. The 280-pound frontcourt presence, who is averaging 10.4 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per contest, received an injection in his back this week to help deal with the pain of the injury.
Sidney and Moultrie are two of only three frontcourt players, with junior Wendell Lewis being the only other member, to average more than 10 minutes per contest in Southeastern Conference play.
The Bulldogs, who have only one win on the road in SEC play with an overtime win at Vanderbilt, will have to try and recover after blowing a 17-point first-half lead at LSU Tuesday.
“Guys, we were the underdog here,” Stansbury said after the LSU loss.
“We’re the underdog on the road, now. That’s life on the road. It ain’t easy on the road, now. It ain’t easy on the road, and that’s why you’ve got to close them out when you have those opportunities. You’ve got to close them out.”
Auburn is hoping to have the same offensive success against MSU that they had less than a month ago at Humphrey Coliseum in a 91-88 Bulldogs victory.
“To come into this environment against a very good defensive team and put up 88 points is pretty good,” Barbee said after the Feb. 4 loss.
“Hopefully, we can keep that offensive momentum going.”