Mississippi State men's basketball coach instructs his team during a game earlier this season. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
The Mississippi State men's basketball team has not had much success away from home this season.
Today, it looks to turn that around.
The Bulldogs (3-5) travel to Joseph J. Gentile Arena to take on the Loyola Ramblers (6-3) in a rematch of the famous 1963 NCAA Tournament game. The game tips off at 7 p.m. in Chicago and can be viewed live on ESPN3. The tape delay broadcast can be found on ESPNU at 10 p.m.
"We are a young and an inexperienced team first and foremost," MSU head coach Rick Ray said. "The thing we have been trying to translate over to our guys is the one thing that always carries on the road â€“ it's defense. (We tell them) Don't get so wrapped up in your offense that it takes away from your defense. Defense travels."
All five of the losses for the Bulldogs have come away from Humphrey Coliseum this year. They lost the season opener at Troy, lost three times in Maui and had a comeback fall short at Providence.
"We have been winning all our home games," MSU sophomore forward Roquez Johnson, who is second in the Southeastern Conference in offensive rebounds, said. "We have to carry that over to the away games. I think we have to go out there and play as hard as we can because we haven't won an away game yet. We have to go out there and get this one."
The Bulldogs have started slow in most away games this season and have finished strong but it hasn't been enough.
MSU has been hit with even more adversity on the eve of its important game in Chicago.
On Wednesday, senior forward Wendell Lewis suffered a fractured right patella during a non-contact drill at practice. He will undergo surgery Monday and is likely to be out for at least eight weeks.
Lewis is the fourth Bulldog to suffer a major injury this season and as a result, MSU travels to Loyola with just six scholarship players.
Without Lewis, the Bulldogs are going to depend even more on Johnson and former Starkville High School player Gavin Ware in the post. It has been a big emphasis of MSU to get the ball inside.
"Our emphasis for our basketball team is try and get the ball into the paint," Ray said. "You have a higher success rate of trying to finish and breaking the defense down if you get the ball into the paint. There are two ways to get into the paint. One is with the dribble drive penetration and the other one is post feeds. With Roquez, he does both. He can drive the ball into the paint, he's a good post up guy and he's quick as far as getting around guys."
The Ramblers are coached by Porter Moser. Ray's and Moser's paths have crossed before, so Ray is looking forward to the matchup.
Loyola is led by senior forward Ben Averkamp with 17.4 points per game.
Johnson is pacing the Bulldogs with 13.3 points per game. Freshman guard Fred Thomas is second with an 11.1 scoring mark.
"My coaches have talked to me about being patient and letting my game come to me," Thomas said. "It's sinking in. I'm getting better at it everyday."
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