Searching for a way to bounce back from a tough loss at Arkansas, the Mississippi State Bulldogs welcome the Tennessee Volunteers to the Humphrey Coliseum tonight for the Southeastern Conference home opener.
Mississippi State (13-3, 0-1) is 11-2 in SEC home openers under coach Rick Stansbury. The Bulldogs face a Volunteer (8-7) team that is riding high after their upset win over the Florida Gators.
“First off, they are very good," Stansbury said. "Anytime you do to Florida what they did to Florida, you know you are very good. They’ve got a good balance inside and outside. They’ve got some veterans, some guys that have been around. They are going to get after you defensively. They’ll play extremely hard.”
The Bulldogs gave up a season-high 98 points to the Razorbacks the last time out but Stansbury didn’t see that as an issue going forward. The sub-par defense was simply an aberration.
“It’s a 15-game season now," Stansbury said. "Can’t let one loss cause another loss. We can’t let one win cause a loss. That’s the challenge always, that balance. There’s no easy games, home or away. It’s hard to look down that schedule and predict. In this league, it’s important to take care of home court as you all know. Road wins are hard to come by.”
If the Bulldogs are to get back on the winning track, they’ll depend on junior forward, Arnett Moultrie who leads the SEC in rebounds with 11.3 rebounds per game and also owns eight double-doubles (second in the SEC).
Moultrie struggled to get involved in the offense against Arkansas due to early foul trouble, but the team’s leading scorer with 16.2 points is determined to bounce back.
“We just have to rebound, defend and get back to the things we do well,” Moultrie said. “But we have to start that now.”
While the Vols have had success in recent years, winning seven of the last 10 meetings, the Bulldogs won the last meeting with a 70-69 thriller in Knoxville.
Stansbury feels confident his team’s hard work will get them back on track tonight in the Hump.
“I think our work ethic is good,” he said. “I don’t expect them to be happy. Because I’m not happy. Don’t expect them to be in a rah rah mood, I would be disappointed in them if they were. You go to work. Things don’t go well, you work harder to get out of them. Our guys have been pretty good about that. Effort hasn’t been a problem on this team.”
Tennessee has won three-straight against the Bulldogs in Humphrey Coliseum and join Kentucky as the only two programs State doesn’t own a winning record against inside the Hump.
The Bulldogs will be looking to beat Tennessee in back-to-back outing for the first time since 1999.
Moultrie continues to pace the SEC in rebounding with 11.3 per game and is second in the league with eight double-doubles.
The Bulldogs haven’t opened league play 0-2 in the SEC since 2003 when they opened 0-3. That year State would go on to finish 9-7 in the league winning the Western Division crown.
MSU guard Jalen Steele will take the floor against a former teammate tonight. Galen Campbell played with Steele during his time at Fulton High School in Knoxville, Tenn.
Tennessee boasts the most SEC wins since 2005-06 with 66 wins.
One of the most sought-after basketball prospects, Jarnell Stokes, has been cleared to play for the Volunteers. Stokes has enrolled in classes for the spring semester and has been cleared by the NCAA Eligibility Center. Stokes will turn 18-years-old on Saturday.