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By MATTHEW STEVENS
Mississippi State knows their perimeter defense will be tested Friday night when a confident Appalachian State enters Humphrey Coliseum.
Bulldogs head coach Rick Stansbury knows that his squadâs perimeter defense must improve after what he saw in the season-opener against Tennessee State.
âItâs very obvious our point guard has to keep those guys out of the lane,â Stansbury said. âWeâve struggled guarding guards at this point.â
With the Mountaineers (2-0) having already put up 89 points at Tulsa and lighting up NAIA Montreat College with 101 points in its home opener, Stansbury knows his backcourt will have a challenge when they match up with Southern Conference Player of the Week Omar Carter.
The 6-foot-5 guard from Charlotte had 35 points against Tulsa in the season opener, which was the most by any D-1 player this season in a winning effort. At 230-pounds, Carter can play three different positions for Appalachian State but the transfer from Charleston Southern has found a comfort level as a scoring two-guard.
âThey got really, really good guards and big guys (that) are really mobileâŠthey can score a lot of different ways,â Stansbury said. âTheyâre averaging 95 points per game right now.â
The last two non-conference opponents to come to Starkville and leave with more than 80 points also left the Magnolia State with a victory. Rider put up 88 in last yearâs season-opener and Clemson earned a 84-82 victory at Humphrey Coliseum in the second game of the 2007-08 season.
âWe think we know who they are very well and for us, itâs a mental thing because physically weâll be fine,â Appalachian State head coach Jason Capel said. âItâll be a fun road trip for us and I believe our kids will be prepared.â
Capel, who was promoted to replace Buzz Peterson after he bolted for the UNC-Wilmington job, had to implement a more aggressive, 94-feet style to this yearâs squad after the loss of 280-pound center Ike Butts to a knee injury in the preseason.
Stansbury said that without the complete health of junior forward Elgin Bailey and the confidence of his guard play, the Bulldogs (1-0), wonât normally want to push the tempo especially against a Appalachian State squad that wonât start a player taller than 6-foot-7.
âWe just donât get up and go as well right now,â Stansbury said. âWeâre not that kind of team thatâs been able to do that (in the past) as much at all. I want to score early better and get some transition baskets. We donât need to come down and consistently (have the) wrong people taking the wrong shots.â
One of the right people Mississippi State wants to have the ball in his hands is senior Ravern Johnson. The 6-foot-7 The senior guard from Lyon, also reached a major milestone as he became the 32nd player in school history to score 1,000 points for a career.
âItâs not real hard to figure out â watch some tape and look at some stats,â Stansbury said. âNow, teams are trying to figure out â âhow do we stop Ray?â and thatâs a credit to your game.â
One key to look for is seeing if Bailey or sophomore reserve forward Wendell Lewis can handle the boards against an Appalachian State team that will send four or all five players to the glass knowing they can get back on defense.
Lewis, who was supposed to be redshirted last year but was forced into a reserve role behind Jarvis Varnado, says heâs playing with more freedom this season at the post position of Stansburyâs system. The 6-foot-8 forward got five points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes against Tennessee State last week.
âLast year was hard but now when he says something to me now I get what to do and donât hesitate when I do it,â Lewis said. âI feel comfortable at the (center) because itâs easier for me now.â