Bulldogs seek first SEC win against the Gators

Mississippi State point guard Lamar Peters, left, looks for an opening in the Ole Miss defense.

Staff Writer

This isn’t how Mississippi State drew things up.

As the No. 24 Bulldogs (12-3, 0-2) get set to host Florida (9-6, 1-2) Tuesday night at 6 p.m., MSU finds itself winless in Southeastern Conference play. Following a strong non-conference run and with expectations to earn State’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in a decade, last week was a less-than-ideal way to keep that momentum rolling with conference losses to South Carolina and Ole Miss.
Still, the Bulldogs feel good about themselves entering Tuesday’s contest versus the Gators.

“I think our guys are confident,” MSU head coach Ben Howland said on Monday. “They know, for example, Tennessee started off 0-2 (in SEC action) last year. They ended up pretty strong. Every game is one game at the time and you’ve got to win one game at the time. At the end of the day, we’ve got to go out and get better.”

State hopes to see some of the improvement Howland speaks of Tuesday. There are numerous areas for the Bulldogs to seek to be better. In the loss to Ole Miss, Howland bemoaned his team’s turnovers and lack of patience on the offensive end.

Defensively, Ole Miss continued a recent trend against MSU as the Bulldogs again had trouble slowing down an opponent from 3-point range.

All those things could once again come into play Tuesday. Florida has the SEC’s best scoring defense, allowing just 61.2 points per game. The Gators have the league’s second-best turnover margin.

Florida also relies heavily on the 3-point shot. The Gators have attempted the second-most 3-pointers in the SEC.

“They really spread the floor,” Howland said of Florida. “They play basically four guards and start four guards and really try to drive and kick and create penetrating opportunities to kick it out to shooters.”
Can MSU correct its recent deficiencies against the Gators? The Bulldogs are, if nothing else, optimistic. On Monday, Howland praised how his team has bounced back from the Ole Miss loss, claiming Sunday’s practice session was one of the best MSU has had.

“We went out on the floor and really responded in a great way,” Howland said.

Players also maintain the Bulldogs are unbroken. Guard Lamar Peters admits Saturday’s loss to Ole Miss was tough, but says MSU has moved on.

“You take a few losses, but it’s all about how you bounce back,” Peters said. “You can’t let it overwhelm you. The guys in the locker room still have their confidence.”

Optimism will only get the Bulldogs so far though. In the end, MSU needs positive results.

Tuesday gives State a prime opportunity to regain its footing and get its season back headed in the right direction.

“We’ve had a rough start (in SEC play), but there’s a lot more basketball left,” Peters said. “We’ve got another chance to go out (today) and redeem ourselves and get back on the right track.”