By MATTHEW STEVENS
Mississippi State’s men’s basketball program knew it would be without its starting point guard and its talented big man before its season opener tonight against Tennessee State.
MSU also got a scare from its returning leading scorer in Ravern Johnson.
Bulldogs head coach Rick Stansbury said in his media session Wednesday that his 6-foot-7 guard/forward, who led State in points (25), minutes (32) and three-point field goals (3) in MSU’s 75-66 exhibition win over NAIA’s Lindsey Wilson this past Saturday, suffered a knee injury.
“Is he a probable or questionable?,” Stansbury joked Wednesday. “He’s probably questionable – that means he could or he couldn’t. That’s just being honest with it.”
This coming after MSU already is aware they’ll be unable to use the services of junior point guard Dee Bost after he was ruled academically ineligible until January and suspended for nine games once he gets eligible for missing the NBA Draft deadline.
The Bulldogs will also be missing sophomore forward Renardo Sidney after the former McDonald’s All-American is being forced to sit out nine games of this upcoming season due to impermissible benefits received prior to signing and arriving on the Mississippi State campus.
“Without these two guys (pointing to Bost and Sidney) these cornerstones, other guys are going to have to step up,” Stansbury said in October. “They’re not going to cancel any games. Those games are going to keep coming. Everybody wants a piece of us till we get these guys eligible.”
Stansbury said Johnson’s injury occurred Monday in practice and the senior hasn’t practiced and “won’t practice” throughout the week before State's game versus Tennessee State at 7 p.m.
“That’s going to hurt a lot (because) Ravern is probably our best scorer,” sophomore guard Twany Beckham said. “Right now we’re looking for him not to play so somebody else has got to step up if he can’t.”
Late Thursday night, the Starkville Daily News learned Johnson will play against TSU in the season-opening contest.
If Johnson isn't 100 percent, Stansbury then turns to redshirt freshman Shaun Smith, who will be making his college debut after sitting out last season due to hip surgery. Smith was an all-state selection at Noxubee County High School after averaging 24.4 points per game and 8.3 rebounds in his senior season two years ago.
“We’ll put Shaun out there, throw it up and see what happens,” Stansbury said. “Pop that popcorn over there, tighten that seatbelt and hang on. We got a find a way for other guys to step up and find a way to grind it out. We got to find a way for these guys who have either never played or never played together to get better.”
Without the perimeter and post defenders he’d come to rely on for four years having graduated and now playing overseas (Jarvis Varnado and Barry Stewart), Mississippi State’s 13-year head coach was less than please with the defensive effort in their lone exhibition win over NAIA program Lindsey Wilson.
“It’s very obvious we’re nowhere we need to be defensively and we got holes we got to keep plugging,” Stansbury said. “(Tonight) it starts counting.”
Tennessee State will also be an inexperienced team as second-year head coach John Cooper has brought in nine newcomers (four of which can’t play this season) to a team that went 9-23 last year and didn’t have a single player voted to the Ohio Valley Conference preseason team.
“The thing about it is – we’re only going to have nine scholarship guy this season,” Cooper said. “Most of our size perspective most of depth there has to sit out so we have to figure out how we can play to put ourselves in a situation to be successful.”
MSU will be handing out their 2010 SEC Western Division Championship rings and while Stewart and Varnado are playing professionally overseas, State officials have gotten word that the duo’s parents will be accepting their rings in their honor.