STARKVILLE — Frustrations are building in the Mississippi State University men’s basketball locker room.
Comments made Monday by junior power forward Arnett Moultrie showcased the emotions MSU feels after it lost its fifth-straight game Saturday, 67-50 at the University of Alabama.
In the team’s scheduled media session before practice, Moultrie called out his teammates for lack of effort and questioned whether the Bulldogs can rebound from the losing streak.
“These last five games we haven’t been playing like a team,” Moultrie said. “Everybody got their own agendas. I see how they come up here (to the podium) and say how bad they want to win and how bad they want to go to the Final Four, but everybody doesn’t work as hard as they say they want (in order) to win.”
Moultrie, who averages 16 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, said a lack of leadership may be a factor in a losing skid that has MSU in danger or playing its way out of the NCAA tournament. When asked if he thought MSU (19-10, 6-8 Southeastern Conference) could reverse its fortunes, the 6-foot-11 forward said, “Maybe not, probably not.”
The comments bothered MSU coach Rick Stansbury when he was asked to respond minutes later.
“I know it’s easy for (Arnett) to get frustrated because things haven’t gone our way, but there’s some things I wish we did better but, at this point, it kinda is what it is,” Stansbury said. “We aren’t going to let one game make comments like that. After the Kentucky game, what would you have said?”
Moultrie had seven points and eight rebounds (one offensive) in 40 minutes against Alabama.
“That’s the most disappointing thing, knowing we’re capable of much more than what we’re showing,” Moultrie said. “A five-game losing streak is unprecedented at any level of basketball, especially with all this talent.”
Senior walk-on co-captain Taylor Luczak disputed the idea of a potential divide in the locker room in an exclusive conversation with The Dispatch on Monday evening. Luczak said Moultrie’s comments surprised him, especially because he was part of a team bowling function Sunday night.
Luczak said MSU had a “come to Jesus” meeting during a three-hour practice in which every player said what they were feeling.
“I bet he wouldn’t say that or feel that way after today’s practice,”
Luczak said. “To say we don’t get along as people on this team isn’t correct. We get along as a group. We need to feel good about ourselves.”
ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi projects MSU as a No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament with still at least three games left to play.
“I’ve been all over that bubble several different times and winning cures everything,” Stansbury said. “I’ve always been one (who says), you win enough you’ll get in; you don’t, you don’t.”
Before Monday’s practice, MSU received more bad news in that it likely will be without freshman guard/forward Rodney Hood for its game at 7 p.m. Wednesday (SEC Network) at the University of South Carolina. Hood continues to rehabilitate a deep bone bruise in his left knee.
“He’s just now starting to walk a little bit without a limp,” Stansbury said. “No on-court stuff yet at all. When you start trying to run and jump, what’s that do to it? That’s kind of where we’re at, and only time is going to tell.”
Team spokesperson Gregg Ellis confirmed Monday that Shaun Smith broke his right middle finger in the loss at Alabama. The 6-foot-6 guard will have surgery Wednesday to have a pin put in the bone to correct the fracture. He will miss the rest of the season.
Without Hood and Smith, MSU will be down to seven players who have seen more than one minute per game in SEC play.
“Give me my options and I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” Stansbury jokingly asked reporters Monday.
n MSU will honor longtime radio announcer Jack Cristil on Saturday at halftime of the men’s basketball team’s game against the University of Arkansas. The school will unveil a banner that will honor Cristil, 86, who joined the MSU family in 1953. He called 636 football games and 1,540 basketball games. His last night on the broadcast came last Feb. 26 when the Bulldogs upended Tennessee in Knoxville, 70-69.
Last fall, Cristil received permanent recognition at Davis Wade Stadium, and his name will remain forever on the facade.