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Bulldogs practice defense

January 16, 2013

Mississippi State junior guard Jalen Steele (0) gets into position on defense. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)

When many people think of Southeastern Conference football, they think of defense.

For Rick Ray and his Mississippi State basketball team, he is taking the same approach many SEC football teams do. He is winning with defense.

"We practice defense," Ray said. "That's all we do. If I had more guys, I can't hold accountable with playing time and things like that. If you are not willing to play defense and play tough, you are probably not going to play. Our guys have a mindset that defense is the most important thing. We still fight it a little bit, as far as, when we can't score, we have an offense drought. Just trying to get those guys understanding if we continue to play defense the way we are playing, even if we have a scoring drought, as long as we keep getting stops, we still have that lead."

The Bulldogs (7-7, 2-0) hope to keep that defensive pressure up today when they welcome Alabama (9-6, 1-1) to Humphrey Coliseum for a SEC matchup. Tip is set for 8:05 p.m. and can be seen on CSS.

"We're starting off with a Mississippi State team that's playing extremely well right now coming off two great wins here to open up SEC play," Alabama head coach Anthony Grant said. "I'm really impressed watching them on film. Their defense has been outstanding."

Ray comes from a good defensive background. He was an assistant under Matt Painter at Purdue and Brad Brownell at Clemson.

"I've always been around good defense coaches," Ray said. "Matt Painter and Brad Brownell are really good defensive coaches. I've had the pleasure of working for guys who teach defense first, then toughness and the offense will come."

In MSU's last five games, it's giving up an average of 58 points per game and is on a three-game win streak. The Bulldogs have held eight of their opponents under 60 points.

"All we work on is defense," MSU freshman guard Craig Sword said. "We don't worry about offense because everybody on our team can play offense. That's all coach preaches."

Sword is fresh off winning SEC Freshman of the Week for his performance last week. He is also battling a sprained left ankle but is expected to play.

"We will continue to evaluate it and see what he can do," Ray said. "Based on the fact that he played in Georgia, unless he did something to re-injure, I suspect that he will play against Alabama."

Sword is averaging 9.6 points per game this season. Sword leads the Bulldogs with 28 steals and averages two per game.

"Coach Ray has done a great job," Grant said. "Those guys have bought into what they need to do to be successful and what allows them to win. You can tell they're playing with passion and playing together. That is rare for a team that's relatively new in terms of the different faces they have to figure that out as quickly as they have. I think that's a testament to coach Ray, his staff and the job they've done."

The Crimson Tide may be without junior guard Trevor Releford, who is listed as doubtful due to injuring his ankle in Monday's practice.

Releford is averaging 16.3 points per game. Sophomore guard Trevor Lacey may have to take up the slack and is averaging 12.5 points per game this season.

Sophomore forward Roquez Johnson leads MSU with 12 points per game. Junior guard Jalen Steele is averaging 11.5 and freshman guard Fred Thomas is sporting 10 points per outing.

Ray is looking to become only the second first-year head coach of the Bulldogs to start 3-0 in the SEC. Frank Carideo did it in 1936.

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