By MATTHEW STEVENS
That would be the common word around Humphrey Coliseum used to describe this Mississippi State men’s basketball season.
Different would be used to describe the off-the-court issues that now include an indefinite suspension of senior guard and leading scorer Ravern Johnson.
Different would be a way to categorize the seventh starting lineup combination used by the Bulldogs in Saturday’s 58-57 victory at LSU.
“You can’t really worry about who is going to be there,” MSU senior guard Riley Benock said Monday. “You have to just rely on the pieces you have and that’s kind of what we did Saturday, put pieces here and there and went in and competed.”
Benock and senior forward Kodi Augustus have not only been the only consistent members of the starting five but are starting to realize that tonight’s home contest with Arkansas (7 p.m., SEC Network) mark at least eight more games left in their college basketball careers, not counting postseason.
Benock is on pace to finish third in school history in games played with 127 finishing only behind last year’s senior duo of Jarvis Varnado and Barry Stewart.
“I think it’s pretty safe to say I’ve never been around anything quite like this year,” Benock said. “You just try to brush it aside and concentrate on who is going to be around and the basketball part of it.”
Benock had his second double-digit effort in SEC play at LSU Saturday and with eight games left in the league schedule, Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury is looking for that leadership to carry his team to at least a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
“He’s played well for us,” Stansbury said. “We need his experience and he’s been around and he’s a guy that’s going to make the right decisions for you. Effort is always going to be great with a great basketball I.Q.”
Augustus, who is in the top 10 of the Southeastern Conference in rebounding at 7.5 per game, has also had double-figure efforts in scoring in the last four games averaged nearly a double-double in the two games last year against the Razorbacks.
“You would hope to see it out of every senior because it’s right around the corner,” Stansbury said. “Some people get it earlier than others. Kodi got it. He gets it as a player everyday in practice. I’m proud of those guys that get it.”
Another off-the-court distraction will be the indefinite suspension of Johnson for multiple violations of team and university rules including missing classes and practice last week following his “inappropriate tweets” on the ride back from last week’s loss at Alabama.
Arkansas (14-8, 4-5 in SEC play) will counter with its inside-out duo of guard duo of Rotnei Clark (13.2 ppg) and forward Marshawn Powell (10.9 ppg).
Both of those players have suffered ankle injuries but played in their most recent home loss this weekend to Ole Miss and are expected to play tonight in Starkville.
Clarke owns the league’s highest single-game point total when he dropped 36 points on Vanderbilt in Nashville to pull off an upset of a then-nationally ranked Commodores team on Jan. 29.
“When he’s on, he’s as good a shooter in the league,” Stansbury said. “We faced some good shooters before but Clarke no question is a guy that if he gets going, is a difference for their team.”
After averaging a team-high 17.5 points in the two games last year against the Razorbacks, Pelphrey admitted to paying extra attention to Bulldogs junior point guard Dee Bost despite him coming into the week with a severe Achilles injury requiring him to wear a boot off the court.
“Like any good point guard, he’s resilent, he’s tough and he’s not afraid to take big shots,” Pelphrey said. “I don’t think you’re ever going to stop Dee Bost. Just try to hang in there.”
Tonight Arkansas will try to get its first win in Humphrey Coliseum since 2001 but Stansbury recognizes very clear that with this different team, the last 10 games have no common ground with this next one against the Razorbacks.
“It has zero to do with the 11th try,” Stansbury said. “They got a different team, we got a different team and Vanderbilt probably said the same thing.”