STARKVILLE — This is not the situation Rick Stansbury wanted to be in entering one of the most critical games of the season.
The Mississippi State University men’s basketball team has lost four games in a row and likely will be without freshman starter Rodney Hood when it takes on the University of Alabama at 5 p.m. today (ESPN) in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
“It’s a concern, but they’re not going to cancel any games and feel sorry for us,” Stansbury said. “We have to find ways to adjust and get some people who haven’t played much, they have to step up and give us some minutes. It’s what it is. We have to find some ways on that bench to give us some minutes. That’s where it is.”
MSU (19-9, 6-7 Southeastern Conference) will need to go deeper down the bench than it probably ever expected after losing Hood, a 6-foot-8 guard/forward, late in the first half of a 73-64 loss to the No. 1 University of Kentucky on Tuesday. Hood was fighting for position on a rebound when he appeared to receive a knee to his leg. He was unable to get up with what the school later announced was a deep bone bruise in his left knee.
The injury is just the latest incident that has contributed to rising frustration in and out of the locker room, Stansbury said.
“No one likes to lose,” Stansbury said. “We didn’t get a W, but you can be proud of the effort you played with. We left everything on the floor. There were some obstacles we had we couldn’t overcome. You have to be able to, as a player, put it behind you mentally (and) get up for the next one. That’s a challenge. We all know that, but our guys have been pretty resilient. I don’t expect anything but that.”
Alabama (18-9, 7-6) has won two in a row and could get a critical piece back for the stretch run. Multiple outlets have reported Crimson Tide coach Anthony Grant has said senior forward JaMychal Green will be “dressed and available” today after returning from an internal suspension.
The Bulldogs are looking to sweep the Crimson Tide for the first time since the 2007-08 season. On Jan. 14 in Starkville, MSU beat Alabama 56-52. A second victory against the Crimson Tide likely will help the Bulldogs improve their RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) of 60. The RPI is one factor the NCAA tournament committee evaluates in selecting at-large teams for its field..
“It’s not like we’re 12-18. We still have 19 wins,” Stansbury said. “It’s not like we’re a bad basketball team. With all of that, it’s not like we’re still not a good basketball team. With all of the adjustments, we’re still a good basketball team.”
In the first meeting against Alabama, Arnett Moultrie led the charge with 25 points and 13 rebounds, while Dee Bost added 17 points and four assists. Moultrie won’t have to face senior forward Tony Mitchell, who was dropped from the program for a violation of team rules. Moultrie’s 16.4 points per game leads MSU, while his 10.8 rebounds and 16 double-doubles lead the SEC.
Without Green and Mitchell, Alabama ran past Arkansas 79-68 on Wednesday in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Ark. Freshman Rodney Cooper came off the bench to score a team-high 17 points, while guard Andrew Steele added 15.
“Alabama is playing some of its best basketball of the season,” Stansbury said. “To see what they did at Arkansas (Thursday) is really impressive. It’s going to be a challenge, and we’ll have to be at our best. It’s on the road, and we all know that’s never easy.”