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MSU takes seven players to Bama

February 20, 2013

Mississippi State freshman and Starkville native Gavin Ware (20) looks to score against Alabama's Nick Jacobs in the first meeting between the two teams in Starkville this season. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)

The deck is stacked against the Mississippi State men's basketball.

They have lost 10-straight for the first time since 1982. Sophomore forward Roquez Johnson was suspended indefinitely on Monday and junior guard Jalen Steele has missed the last three games due to a suspension. His status is unknown for today's Southeastern Conference game at Alabama.

The Bulldogs (7-17, 2-10) travel to Coleman Coliseum, where they have lost 11 of the last 15, to meet the Crimson Tide (17-8, 9-3). Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. and can be seen on the SEC Network.

If Steele doesn't play, State will be down to five scholarship players and seven healthy players. 

"I learned how to stay patient a long time ago," MSU head coach Rick Ray said. "These guys are freshmen and what you’re trying to get them to understand is a consistent effort."

The Bulldogs will have to rely on three freshman. Craig Sword, Fred Thomas and Gavin Ware have been thrust into the starting lineup due to suspensions and injuries. 

It seems the freshman are ready to meet the challenge.

"We are going to have to step up," said Sword, who scored a career-high 25 points at LSU on Saturday.

"That's a part of life. If something like that happens, that's what the freshman have to do – step up."

Sword, a native of Montgomery, Ala., will be returning to his home state. It is something he will be looking forward to.

"It'll be fun going back at home," Sword said. "I have some family coming down."

Alabama took a 75-43 win over Mississippi State in the first meeting in Starkville. The Tide used a strong second half to outlast the Bulldogs.

"We know they have gone through a rough stretch of losing games," Alabama head coach Anthony Grant said on the SEC Teleconference Monday. "The last time we played them (it was a) six or eight point game at the half. We were fortunate to make some shots in the second half to opened the lead up. We know how hard they play. We expect a very challenging game."

Ray hopes to use the lack of numbers to his advantage. The Bulldogs have only one true big man in Ware.
Ray thinks the smaller lineup will help with what Alabama does.

"There won't be as many matchup problems because we won't  have as many true post guys out there," Ray said. "(With) the way they can pick and pop on ball screen action, dribble drive and create opportunities, we'll be able to match up with them on the offensive end as far as being able to guard them on the perimeter."

The Tide like to play offense on the perimeter. Alabama doesn't use the paint like most teams do, but they could with MSU's low numbers and lack of big men.

"The problem is obviously if they end up posting a lot of their guys which they really don't," Ray said. "(If) they post Nick Jacobs and really (Moussa) Gueye, (it's) not that big of a threat as far as like positing. The challenge for us will just be managing the minutes."

Trevor Releford leads Alabama with 14.4 potions per game. Trevor Lacey averages 12 points and Rodney Cooper averages just under 11 points per contest.

Sword leads the Bulldogs with 10.2 points per outing. He leads all SEC freshman with 11.9 points in SEC play.

Thomas averages 10 points while Starkville native Ware averages just under nine points per game.

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