Tennessee-Mississippi St. Preview
Mississippi State finds itself struggling a bit, but coach Rick Stansbury isn't about to panic.
It could be tough for his 20th-ranked Bulldogs to get back on track, however, in Thursday night's SEC home opener against a Tennessee team coming off an inspiring victory.
After losing to then-No. 6 Baylor by two points Dec. 23 and rallying from a nine-point deficit to beat Utah State by two on New Year's Eve, Mississippi State opened conference play Saturday with a 98-88 loss at Arkansas.
The Bulldogs (13-3, 0-1) shot 51.9 percent and reserve Deville Smith had a career-high 25 points, but they also turned the ball over 18 times. Mississippi State couldn't come up with any stops, allowing its most points since falling 98-49 at Alabama on Jan. 18, 2005.
"I'm not going to panic on the Arkansas game," Stansbury said. "Offense led to some defensive problems. We've only given up 70 points one other time, so defensively we've been pretty good."
The Bulldogs hope returning to Humphrey Coliseum, where they're 9-1, can help them avoid opening conference play with back-to-back losses for the first time since starting 0-3 in 2002-03. However, Mississippi State has lost its last three in Starkville to Tennessee since an 82-60 victory Jan. 28, 2004.
The Bulldogs defeated the Volunteers 70-69 last season on a dunk by Wendell Lewis with 3.4 seconds to play for only their second victory in the last eight meetings.
Tennessee (8-7, 1-0) has lost all three of its true road games but is coming off a 67-56 win over then-No. 13 Florida on Saturday.
The Vols limited the Gators, who came in averaging 85.4 points, to season lows in points and field-goal percentage (35.7).
"They are very good," Stansbury said of the Vols. "Anytime you do to Florida what they did to Florida, you know they are very good."
First-year coach Cuonzo Martin liked the way the Vols controlled the tempo against the high-powered Gators, and he hopes to get a similar effort against a Mississippi State team that is also capable of piling up points.
The Bulldogs are fourth in the SEC with an average of 75.6 points and senior point guard Dee Bost and junior forward Arnett Moultrie are tied for fifth in the conference with 16.2 per game.
Neither Bost nor Moultrie have been at their best offensively lately, however.
Bost had 21 points against Arkansas but also had a season-worst six turnovers. He was averaging 7.3 points on 22.2 percent shooting in his previous three games.
Moultrie's averaging 10.7 points in his last three contests after averaging 20.4 in his previous five.
Tennessee is led by sophomore guard Trae Golden, who is averaging team highs of 14.6 points and 5.4 assists. He finished with 12 points and seven assists Saturday, helping the Vols beat their first ranked opponent of the season after losing their first three by an average of 5.7 points.
Tennessee now hopes to build on that victory as it continues through a difficult stretch, which includes hosting second-ranked Kentucky on Saturday.
"It was really good for us to get our confidence back," said junior forward Jeronne Maymon, who is second on the Vols with 11.2 points per game. "It's only one game, but we were just trying to start it off strong. Everybody's (SEC) record was 0-0, so we were just trying to start over like a new year."