The Mississippi State Bulldogs open first round National Invitational Tournament action tonight in the Humphrey Coliseum against the University of Massachusetts Minutemen.
MSU enters the affair with a 21-11 record following an opening round loss to Georgia in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
The Minutemen carry a 22-11 record and dropped an 84-80 decision to Atlantic-10 Champion St. Bonaventure.
UMass, which is 7-11 all-time against SEC foes, is led in scoring by sophomore guard Chaz Williams' 16.4 clip and sophomore forward Raphiael Putney's at 10.3 average.
“UMass is a very good opponent," MSU head coach Rick Stansbury said. "They’ve had some great wins, beating Xavier and playing well down that stretch. They won at Temple, so we have a tough matchup for us. We have some disappointment of not making the NCAA Tournament.”
Disappointment indeed, as the Bulldogs enter the NIT having lost six of its final eight games, a fact that could prove to be hard to get past for MSU.
“It’ll be a huge challenge for us, as you well know, but there is no one to blame but us,” said Stansbury. “We had our opportunities. Most of the time this time of the year you’re trying to play your way in and we basically played our way out. We had a bad two-and-a-half week stretch and lose five in a row, and, again, had plenty of opportunities in all those games to close it out. And then we don’t close it out against Georgia down there. That’s the toughest thing.
“There have been times in the past you’re really playing well down the stretch. Most of the time that’s where we are and you’re trying to play you’re way in, but it’s totally different this time. We basically played our way out.”
If State is to end the season on a positive note, it will need to get back to the style basketball that had it ranked as high as No. 15 during the season. That means the Bulldogs lean on senior guard Dee Bost and UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie.
"It was good to get back on the court again," Bost said of returning to practice on Monday. "We've got a bad taste we need to get out of our mouths. We have a lot to prove."
Bost is averaging 15.6 points per game this season as the school’s all-time assist leader. Moultrie on the other hand leads the SEC with 18 double-double while leading MSU in scoring at 15.8 points per game.
In NIT action, MSU is 7-7 all-time, including a 6-4 ledger with Stansbury at the helm. The Bulldogs last played in the NIT in 2010, beating Jackson State before dropping a 76-74 decision to North Carolina.
Tip at Humphrey Coliseum is set for 6 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPN2 with Brad Nessler and Jimmy Dykes handling the broadcast.