Rebounding could decide MSU game at Texas A&M

KeyShawn Feazell
By: 
JOEL COLEMAN
Staff Writer

On the heels of a dominating win over Ole Miss, Mississippi State is inching back closer to the NCAA Tournament bubble.

The Bulldogs (19-8, 7-7) can likely thrust themselves fully into the Big Dance conversation with a victory on the road in a 6 p.m. game at Texas A&M (17-10, 6-8) Tuesday night.

For State to do that though, head coach Ben Howland believes it could all come down to how well the Bulldogs crash the boards.

“It’s about blocking out,” Howland said. “ (Texas A&M’s Tyler) Davis has 56 offensive rebounds in 14 (Southeastern Conference) games. (Robert) Williams has 39.

“Between the two, they average seven offensive rebounds a (conference) game. They have 90 between the two of them. They have over half of (Texas A&M’s) offensive rebounds. That’s a real issue.”

The Aggies have proven to be the Southeastern Conference’s top rebounding team all year long. Texas A&M averages 41.6 boards per contest as a team. By contrast, Mississippi State averages 37.1 rebounds each game. The Bulldogs’ total stands at seventh in the league.

“Our rebound margin has been about even,” Howland said. “We’re in the middle of the pack somewhere, but we can do better and we need to do better.”

Howland believes missing key rebounds cost MSU dearly in heartbreaking losses at Missouri and at Vanderbilt last week. The Bulldogs can’t afford to miss those chances Tuesday as they fight for their NCAA Tournament lives.

Almost any path to an at-large berth in the big dance for Mississippi State probably has to include a win at Texas A&M Tuesday night. MSU’s RPI as of late Monday sits at 71st according to realtimerpi.com, but that mark would take a big leap forward with a win over the Aggies, who sit at 21st.

MSU would then have chances to boost its resume even further with three regular season games remaining after Tuesday night – the most important of those being a home contest against Tennessee next week. Tennessee is 15th in the RPI.

“(Texas A&M is) high in the RPI and it’s a road game, so it’s big for us,” MSU’s Xavian Stapleton said after the win over Ole Miss on Saturday. “We need to win on the road since we just lost two on the road (at Missouri and at Vanderbilt). It’d be big for us to get that win and get our confidence back up. We’re ready to play.”

While Mississippi State zeroes in on Texas A&M, the Aggies are well aware of how dangerous the Bulldogs can be as well. State has won five of its last seven games and Aggies head coach Billy Kennedy sees a team that can compete with just about anyone.

“I think that collectively, their five guards are as good as anybody in the country that we’ve played,” Kennedy said of MSU on Monday’s SEC coaches teleconference. “Their quickness and athleticism concerns me on both ends of the floor.”

As Kennedy worries about State’s guard play, the Bulldogs might be most worried about one of their big men. Forward Aric Holman, MSU’s third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, left the Ole Miss game on Saturday with a leg injury. Holman underwent an MRI on Sunday and fortunately for the Bulldogs, all was well with that.

“The good news is, (the MRI) was completely negative,” Howland said. “There are no issues structurally.”

Still, there is no guarantee Holman will be ready Tuesday night. He was slated to do some rehab work and practice some on Monday, but his status for Tuesday night’s game is a wait-and-see situation. If Holman can’t go, that will mean more minutes for MSU freshman forward KeyShawn Feazell. So far this season, Feazell only averages a little more than 6 minutes of playing time per game, but Howland has faith Feazell can be productive against the Aggies if he’s needed to fill in some for Holman.

“He’s solid,” Howland said of Feazell. “He does a good job. He plays really hard. He’s very physical. He blocks out. He does everything he’s supposed to do.

“Keyshawn is actually a better block-out guy than Aric is.”

So who knows? Maybe Feazell’s presence could help MSU haul in a crucial rebound or two down the stretch of Tuesday night’s important game.

One thing is certain. The Bulldogs need guys to step up in a big way if their NCAA Tournament dreams are to stay fully afloat.

“It’s an opportunity to get what we missed at Vanderbilt and Missouri and get a huge RPI-boosting road win,” Howland said of Tuesday night’s game. “That’d be huge.”

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