By MATTHEW STEVENS
The refrain for today’s regular season finale at Humphrey Coliseum is it’s just another game.
The hope for Mississippi State is just that today doesn’t resemble anything like last year’s Senior Day affair.
After the sold-out crowd stood in honoring Barry Stewart and Jarvis Varnado in their final regular season game in Starkville, they sat in their seats astonished as to what they were seeing on the court.
Over those few minutes of play, Tennessee jumped out to a 17-0 lead and never let Mississippi State back in the game all afternoon essentially ending the Bulldogs hopes of an at-large berth in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
“That was the craziest thing because Tennessee came and punched us in the mouth,” senior forward Kodi Augustus said. “I try not to let anything interfere with basketball but Tennessee was just better than us that day. They're good on the night and it just happened to be on our Senior Night. That was crazy when they did that - I was shocked."
After that contest, Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury mentioned he thought too much emotion was given before the opening tip with the farewell for Stewart and Varnado being a historical moment in the program’s history.
“I don’t have the answer to it,” Stansbury said. “Our teams haven’t done that. You would think tonight, senior night, what we were playing for, it wouldn’t be the night that it happened. We were different tonight than I’ve ever seen our basketball team, for whatever reason.”
Today, the Bulldogs program will honor four seniors and three starters in Augustus, Ravern Johnson, Riley Benock and Brandon Bolen.
All of them acknowledge they’ve tried to not think about the moment but admit it will be emotional to be honored at center court before the game.
"I know it'll be real emotional,” Johnson said. “I'm going to try my best not to get too emotional so I can have a good all-around game. "It's my last game at the Hump and there's a lot of memories here.”
When asked what has transformed Johnson into a sharpshooter to lead the Bulldogs (16-13, 8-7 in SEC play) to road wins over Tennessee and Arkansas, Augustus referenced an attitude change due to the 6-foot-7 wing player’s suspension over his critical Twitter comments on the coaching staff.
"Maybe it's the suspension and he comes back and he's efficient more,” Augustus said. “He's making shots and he doesn't want to get back on that bench. I thought the suspension was good when you look back on it. It got him playing well and woke him up. It was a good coaching move.”
Benock has played the third most games in MSU history behind only last year’s senior honorees – Stewart and Varnado.
“One of the best memories I've had is the SEC Tournament win we had,” Benock said. “That year was a special team and that allowed us to get to the NCAA Tournament and stuff so I think we'll be able to hang your hat on."
While the game against South Carolina (14-14, 5-10) means nothing in terms of seeding for next week’s Southeastern Conference Tournament, the Bulldogs realize how crucial it is to go into an event they’ve had historical success in with positive momentum.
“We've been inconsistent the whole year and we've finally clicked,” Johnson said. “It's a bit of urgency now.”
That urgency the MSU players talk about has translated into the defensive end where they’ve been able to string together second half defensive efforts in their last two victories.
“As a basketball player - you're never waiting on something bad to happen but certainly we have the pieces, we just got to string possessions together and play well," Augustus said.
Mississippi State’s next game regardless of the outcome today is a SEC Tournament quarterfinal game on Friday at 9 p.m. against the winner of the Eastern Division No. 3 seed and the Western Division No. 6.