By MATTHEW STEVENS
Mississippi State knows their perimeter defense will be tested Friday night when a confident Appalachian State enters Humphrey Coliseum.
Bulldogs head coach Rick Stansbury knows that his squad’s perimeter defense must improve after what he saw in the season-opener against Tennessee State.
“It’s very obvious our point guard has to keep those guys out of the lane,” Stansbury said. “We’ve struggled guarding guards at this point.”
With the Mountaineers (2-0) having already put up 89 points at Tulsa and lighting up NAIA Montreat College with 101 points in its home opener, Stansbury knows his backcourt will have a challenge when they match up with Southern Conference Player of the Week Omar Carter.
The 6-foot-5 guard from Charlotte had 35 points against Tulsa in the season opener, which was the most by any D-1 player this season in a winning effort. At 230-pounds, Carter can play three different positions for Appalachian State but the transfer from Charleston Southern has found a comfort level as a scoring two-guard.
“They got really, really good guards and big guys (that) are really mobile…they can score a lot of different ways,” Stansbury said. “They’re averaging 95 points per game right now.”
The last two non-conference opponents to come to Starkville and leave with more than 80 points also left the Magnolia State with a victory. Rider put up 88 in last year’s season-opener and Clemson earned a 84-82 victory at Humphrey Coliseum in the second game of the 2007-08 season.
“We think we know who they are very well and for us, it’s a mental thing because physically we’ll be fine,” Appalachian State head coach Jason Capel said. “It’ll be a fun road trip for us and I believe our kids will be prepared.”
Capel, who was promoted to replace Buzz Peterson after he bolted for the UNC-Wilmington job, had to implement a more aggressive, 94-feet style to this year’s squad after the loss of 280-pound center Ike Butts to a knee injury in the preseason.
Stansbury said that without the complete health of junior forward Elgin Bailey and the confidence of his guard play, the Bulldogs (1-0), won’t normally want to push the tempo especially against a Appalachian State squad that won’t start a player taller than 6-foot-7.
“We just don’t get up and go as well right now,” Stansbury said. “We’re not that kind of team that’s been able to do that (in the past) as much at all. I want to score early better and get some transition baskets. We don’t need to come down and consistently (have the) wrong people taking the wrong shots.”
One of the right people Mississippi State wants to have the ball in his hands is senior Ravern Johnson. The 6-foot-7 The senior guard from Lyon, also reached a major milestone as he became the 32nd player in school history to score 1,000 points for a career.
“It’s not real hard to figure out – watch some tape and look at some stats,” Stansbury said. “Now, teams are trying to figure out – ‘how do we stop Ray?’ and that’s a credit to your game.”
One key to look for is seeing if Bailey or sophomore reserve forward Wendell Lewis can handle the boards against an Appalachian State team that will send four or all five players to the glass knowing they can get back on defense.
Lewis, who was supposed to be redshirted last year but was forced into a reserve role behind Jarvis Varnado, says he’s playing with more freedom this season at the post position of Stansbury’s system. The 6-foot-8 forward got five points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes against Tennessee State last week.
“Last year was hard but now when he says something to me now I get what to do and don’t hesitate when I do it,” Lewis said. “I feel comfortable at the (center) because it’s easier for me now.”