Mississippi-Mississippi St. Preview

Mississippi State has a starting five that looks capable of a

deep run into the NCAA Tournament come March.

The bench? Not so much.

With the grind of Southeastern Conference taking its toll on a

talented but thin roster, coach Rick Stansbury is desperately

searching for anybody capable of giving quality minutes as the

20th-ranked Bulldogs (18-5, 5-3 SEC) prepare to host Mississippi

(14-8, 4-4) on Thursday night.

That’s why sophomore Shaun Smith’s brief burst in Saturday’s win

over Auburn was so encouraging.

The 6-foot-6 guard has been stuck on the bench for most of his

two seasons, bothered by hip and wrist injuries, but he scored five

points and grabbed a rebound in seven minutes against the Tigers.

The production came at key moments – a 3-pointer when the game was

tight in the first half and a pair of free throws in the final

seconds as the Bulldogs sealed the win.

“There’s no reason he can’t do that against everybody,”

Stansbury said. “And if he hadn’t of been hurt I think we’d be way

beyond that point, but just because of his situation that’s where

we’re at right now.”

Mississippi State has been limited to basically a seven-man

rotation the past few games since backup point guard DeVille Smith

was sidelined indefinitely with what Stansbury called headaches and

dizziness. Stansbury hopes Smith can return to the lineup soon, but

no date has been set.

That’s meant an even heavier load for the starters. Dee Bost,

Rodney Hood and Arnett Moultrie rank one, two and three in the SEC

in minutes played. All three average more than 34 minutes per


Smith’s lengthy 6-foot-6 frame is beneficial on both ends of the

floor when he’s healthy. He’s slowly worked his way back from

injuries the past two months, trying to send a message to Stansbury

with improved play during practice.

“I’m still here and want to play,” Smith said.

Stansbury is more than happy to put him on the floor as long as

he contributes. Sophomore guard Jalen Steele said there’s little

doubt Smith has the talent when healthy.

“Shaun will help us out on defense,” Steele said. “He’s just got

to come out with the focus where he can play, be confident about

his game, be confident about his defense, and everything will be


Mississippi State is trying to avoid getting swept by rival Ole

Miss in the season series for the first time since 1998. The Rebels

won the first game 75-68 in Oxford, with Reginald Buckner scoring a

career high 19 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.

“Offensive rebounding was a factor in that game,” Stansbury

said. “We have to play better than we played the last time.”

Ole Miss is coming off its second double-overtime loss of the

season, a 69-67 setback to Alabama. The Rebels still have NCAA

Tournament hopes, and two wins over the Bulldogs would certainly

help their at-large profile.

It won’t be easy. Mississippi State has a 12-game home winning

streak against all opponents and won 24 of its past 27 home games

against Ole Miss.

“We’re a handful of possessions away from sitting here at 7-1

(in the SEC),” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “If you dwell on

that, it can drive you crazy. The reality is there’s nothing we can

do about the first eight. All we control is the next eight,

starting Thursday night. For us, it shows me our attention to

detail needs to improve.”

Kennedy said that starts with improving the team’s free-throw

percentage and turnover margin, which both rank last in the


Ole Miss had just five turnovers against Mississippi State in

the first meeting, which was easily one of the Rebels’ best games

of the season in that category.

“I feel like once you win the first one, you kind of have the

upper hand,” Ole Miss forward Terrance Henry. “We always know all

their calls. We know exactly what they’re going to do. It’s a

matter of us going in there playing like we did the last time.”