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MSU returns home to take on Missouri in basketball

February 12, 2013

Fred Thomas leads the Bulldogs by scoring 10.5 points per game. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)

Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray was glad his team made it through last week.

It wasn't easy for the Bulldogs after two games against some of the top competition in the Southeastern Conference.

"We had a tough week this past week on the road," Ray said. "(It was) two games against two teams in the top of the standings in the SEC in hostile environments and then we were a man down at Florida, so back into an even shorter rotation."

This week doesn't get much easier. MSU (7-15, 2-8) starts it off with Missouri today inside Humphrey Coliseum. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. and can be seen on the SEC Network and locally on My-Miss.

The Bulldogs have lost eight in a row and are in danger of losing five-straight SEC home games for the first time since the stretch was reached from Feb. 11, 1981 to Jan. 20, 1982. State hasn't lost five-straight home games since losing six in 1986.

The Bulldogs will be without junior guard Jalen Steele, who is still suspended for violating team rules. Steele didn't make the trip to Gainesville, Fla. on Saturday.

"More than anything, we’re already in a situation where we have a short rotation and anything you do outside of the program that’s going to be a distraction, first and foremost, that’s bad," Ray said. "Second of all, it’s a selfish act. Now you’re taking away a chance for guys to go out, compete and win because you’ve shortened the rotation. More than anything, you’re (hurting) your team and you’re (hurting) your teammates when you get into trouble like that."

MSU is left with six scholarship players and two walk-ons. The Bulldogs have had low numbers for most of the season.

"Rick has done a great job," Missouri head coach Frank Haith said. "In terms of losing eight straight, I haven’t seen this team quiet. They compete, they fight and they play extremely hard. That credit goes to Rick in terms of just getting his guys to go out there and compete night in and night out."

The Tigers are 0-5 on the road in the SEC this season. They are coming off a double-digit win over Ole Miss on Saturday. Missouri is looking to win a road game for the first time this season and take one step closer to an NCAA Tournament bid.

"We’ve got to be ready to play," Haith said. "We haven’t had success on the road. We’re going in to play a team that I think – any team that plays as hard as they play and competes, they’re dangerous."

The Tigers are led by senior forward Laurence Bowers, who averages 14.9 points per game. Sophomore guard Jabari Brown is averaging 14.7 points per outing.

Junior guard Phil Pressey 12.6 points per game and leads the SEC with 6.9 assists per contest.

With the Bulldogs low numbers, the two walk-ons may have to guard Pressey.

"Trivante (Bloodman) will get the first assignment on him and he’ll probably play him the predominant amount of time he’s in, but we’ll have different guys on him like Tyson (Cunningham) and Chicken (Craig Sword)," Ray said. "Baxter Price will get some reps on him as well, too, because he does a good job picking up the ball fullcourt.

"With Phil Pressey it's not a one-man defense. You've got to have other people. They key for us defending against Phil Pressey and the ball-screen action is if we get other people involved in the ball-screen action."

MSU is led by freshman guard Fred Thomas's 10.5 points. Freshman guard Craig Sword and sophomore forward Roquez Johnson are averaging just under 10 points an outing.

The Bulldogs will travel to LSU on Saturday to end the week.

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