MSU gets second chance against LSU at SEC Tournament

MSU's Eli Wright (2), middle, gets surrounded by LSU's defense.
Staff Writer

f at first you don’t succeed, try again.

That’s what Mississippi State gets the chance to do this week as it begins the Southeastern Conference Tournament Thursday night in St. Louis, Missouri, at 6 p.m. against LSU.

It’s the second game in a row that the Bulldogs (21-10, 9-9) and Tigers (17-3, 8-10) have faced off after the two squads closed out the regular season against each other on Saturday. That contest went to LSU 78-57. Today, MSU has the opportunity for retribution.

“They’re a good team and played well against us on Saturday,” Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland said. “We are both fresh in each other’s minds.

“Both teams have prepared for each other, so there won’t be a lot of secrets.”

For Mississippi State, tonight isn’t only a second chance against LSU. It’s also a renewed opportunity to find a path into the NCAA Tournament.

The Bulldogs went into the regular season’s final two games with a good chance to earn an at-large berth to the big dance with a pair of wins. Instead, MSU was blown out at home by Tennessee and on the road at LSU.
That leaves the Bulldogs in desperation mode this week if they want to get back on college basketball’s biggest stage for the first time since 2009. Mississippi State likely needs to get to Sunday’s championship game to have any shot of an at-large NCAA Tournament berth. Of course, winning the SEC Tournament would grant State an automatic spot in the NCAA field.

“We played poorly the last week of the season and now we have to try to redeem ourselves,” Howland said.

It all starts with Thursday night’s tilt against LSU. The Tigers ran away with things down in Baton Rouge last Saturday. MSU’s Quinndary Weatherspoon attributed some of that to the Bulldogs experiencing a hangover effect from State’s disappointing home loss against Tennessee earlier in that week.

“Guys couldn’t believe we lost like that (to Tennessee) on our home floor,” Weatherspoon said. “They were still talking about it at LSU.”

All that is in the past now though. As bad as the last two games have hurt the Bulldogs, they know things could turn around just as quickly starting Thursday.

“It’s a whole new season,” Howland said. “We had (Sunday) and (Monday) off, which I think we needed just to kind of get our legs back and get refocused on the fact that it is a new season that starts all over. It's sudden death now.

“I think we'll come in there very focused and ready to give our very best effort against the LSU Tigers.”

Mississippi State has proven at times this year it can be a dangerous squad when everything clicks. The Bulldogs began the season on an eight-game winning streak. In SEC play, MSU had separate winning streaks of four and three games.

State knows it can get on a roll. The Bulldogs are counting on doing so yet again.

“We’ve been up and down, but hopefully we can be hot again,” Weatherspoon said.