NCAA BK

Mississippi State suffering through chaotic season

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STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP)

Mississippi State's basketball season has been defined by lengthy NCAA suspensions, televised fistfights, academic issues and Twitter controversy.

The behavior has led to four starters being suspended for a combined 30 games. One is no longer with the team. It's embarrassing for a proud program that's won five of the past eight Southeastern Conference Western Division titles.

The latest saga involves Ravern Johnson, whose suspension for complaining about his role with the team on Twitter and academic issues has given the Bulldogs another problem.

The 6-foot-7 senior is averaging a team-high 17.7 points per game. In addition to suspending Johnson, coach Rick Stansbury has banned the team from using Twitter.

''I think it's safe to say I've never been around anything quite like this year,'' guard Riley Benock said. ''In the past, we've had little ups and downs, but never to this level. I don't know if it's a way of whittling things down until you get to the core, but it's been different.''

Despite the problems, there are still games to be played - games Stansbury expects the Bulldogs to win. He acknowledges the constant upheaval is an issue, but says the recent string of misbehavior is an isolated phenomenon, not an indication of a larger trend.

''There's accountability for your actions,'' said Stansbury, the SEC's second-longest tenured coach in his 13th season. ''And then you move on.''

But that's been difficult because the Bulldogs haven't had a consistent lineup for more than a few weeks. Now Mississippi State (12-10, 4-4 SEC) will be without Johnson, who is third on the school's career list with 228 3-points, when it hosts Arkansas (14-8, 4-5) on Wednesday at Humphrey Coliseum.

The other issues:

- Guard Dee Bost missed the first 14 games of the season. The first five were because of an academic suspension and then came a nine-game penalty from the NCAA after he failed to pull out of the NBA Draft by the deadline.

- Forward Renardo Sidney has been suspended three times this season. He missed nine games after the NCAA ruled he received impermissible benefits as an amateur. He was also suspended one game after an ''incident'' during practice and two more games after a fistfight with teammate Elgin Bailey at the Diamond Head Classic on Dec. 23.

Sidney also retweeted Johnson's critical comments of his role with the team, but Stansbury declined to punish the sophomore.

- Bailey missed two games because of the fight with Sidney, and then the school said it was his decision to leave the team and transfer to Southeastern Louisiana.

- Backup point guard Twany Beckham, who was averaging 2.9 points per game, decided to transfer in January. He's since decided to walk-on at Kentucky.

''We really don't have any more room for error,'' Bost said. ''We've got to grow up.''

Mississippi State has basically no shot at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, but is trying to get into some sort of rhythm before trying to earn an automatic bid by winning the SEC Tournament.

Facing Arkansas at home could help the team begin that process. They've beaten the Razorbacks 10 straight times in Starkville.

''I wish those 10 tries had anything to do with the 11th try,'' Stansbury said. ''But it doesn't.''

Stansbury is especially wary of Arkansas' leading scorer Rotnei Clarke, who is averaging 13.2 points and shooting 41 percent from 3-point range. The 6-foot guard's success is a key indicator in the Razorbacks' success.

In four SEC wins, he's averaging 20 points per game. In five losses, just 5.6 points.

''When Clarke's making shots they're capable of beating anybody anywhere,'' Stansbury said.

As for Mississippi State, it's just trying to find some cohesion as the season enters its final month.

Benock said everyone on campus wants to know the ''inside scoop'' on the Bulldogs' crazy season, but he tries to avoid talking about drama. After all, suspended players don't help win games. ''You've just got to concentrate on the pieces you have,'' Benock said.

Tagged: Arkansas, Mississippi State, Southeastern Louisiana, Riley Benock, Ravern Johnson, Renardo Sidney

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