Mississippi State men’s basketball head coach Rick Stansbury said Monday he won’t treat this two-game home stretch as a panic-mode situation.
He simply may not have to.
His players understand the circumstance that exists where if Mississippi State (10-8, 2-2 in Southeastern Conference play) loses games this week to Vanderbilt and Florida on national television, the silent alarm in Humphrey Coliseum may go off alerting all involved this season may not ever turn around.
“We know we can’t lose too many more games because we know we’re straddling the .500 mark right now,” State junior point guard Dee Bost said.
During the rocky road that has defined the 2010-11 season for the Bulldogs, MSU has been down by at least 20 points in each of the five games they’ve played against teams ranked in the Top 70 of the Ratings Percentage Index.
Against one of the league’s bigger lineups and most efficient on offense (leading SEC with a 78.7 points per game clip), State must to literally rebound the basketball if they want to flip the script against the Commodores.
The 23 total rebounds for MSU at Georgia tied for the fewest in SEC play with Stansbury roaming the sidelines. Last year against Florida in the SEC Tournament, MSU also had 23 but in that win both teams shot over 40 percent. However, the two offensive boards marked the fewest for MSU under Stansbury.
“I don't think we were very good from the get-go," Stansbury said after the loss Saturday. "Georgia out-worked us and out-toughed us from the start.”
Vanderbilt, ranked 19th in the latest Associated Press poll, is coming off two home wins against Ole Miss and St. Mary’s (Ca) before heading to Starkville but Commodores head coach Kevin Stallings has made public his fears about his team’s inability to finish leads on the road against South Carolina and Tennessee this month.
“I think they’ve got the most improved player in the league in (Festus) Ezeli, absolutely the best shooter in the league in (John) Jenkins, and then everybody talks about (Jeffery) Taylor as their best player,” Stansbury said.
Of course the one player Stansbury didn’t mention initially when describing Vanderbilt (14-4, 2-2) is the league’s player of the week in Lance Goulbourne, who was honored by the league Monday after he averaged 14.5 points and 13 rebounds in a pair of wins over Ole Miss and 22nd-ranked St. Mary’s (Ca.) this past week.
Goulbourne joins juniors Brad Tinsley and Ezeli, along with Jenkins as SEC weekly award winners this season.
“He shines because he's tougher than nails,” Stansbury said. “He's tough. He's coming in and he's a guy that's taken them to another level right now. He can score, shoots the three a little bit and he's just tough."
Goulbourne, who leads the conference in rebounding during league play, had double-double efforts (the first two of his career) at home against both the Rebels and Gaels. The 16 rebounds against Ole Miss was a new career-high and tied a record in a single game for anybody under Commodores head coach Kevin Stallings.
“He has a gift that helps someone be a great rebounder,” Stallings said after the St. Mary’s win. “He's an excellent 2-foot jumper. He can rebound above the rim and can rebound in areas that aren't his own."
Vanderbilt’s last win at Humphrey Coliseum came in 1993, which is beyond Stallings’ coaching tenure.
For MSU and teams ranked outside the RPI 150, Thursday represents the first of two-straight games against ranked foes, as No. 24 Florida visits at noon on Saturday. Mississippi State hasn’t beaten a ranked team in Starkville since a 88-68 victory over Ole Miss on Jan. 26, 2008.
“You’re at home, you’ve got to find ways to protect your home court. I don’t care who is coming in here,” Stansbury said. “Unfortunately, we’ve got Vanderbilt coming in. They don’t have many weaknesses.”