Bost, Bulldogs Ready For Challenge Game

Even Dee Bost has an opinion about Mississippi State's top story of the week, albeit offered with a healthy helping of humor as he got in the first question of this press-fest. "Y'all think Dan Mullen is going to leave?" he asked. "I don't think so!" So go ahead, Bulldog folk, rest easy on that front because the quarterback of the basketball team has spoken.

Not that events involving his football counterparts is foremost in Bost's mind. He has his own heavy duty in store for Saturday as #21 Mississippi State (7-1) hosts West Virginia (4-1). The 8:00 game is part of this year's SEC/Big East Challenge which got off to a Thursday start with the leagues splitting the first four games.

Bost for one is keeping score. A fourth-year SEC starter, but a native of North Carolina with knowledge of eastern basketball, he takes this made-for-TV matchup seriously. After all, Bost has painful memories of his own team being passed over for NCAA berths in no small part due to the lack of SEC roundball regard. Counting some coups this weekend will only boost Bulldog schedule strength in conference season.

"Yeah, this is a chance. We're looking to win the Challenge to prove we can compete with them throughout the year."

Of more obvious and immediate focus though is winning Mississippi State's own Challenge game. And quite a challenge it is. All the Bulldogs needed to know to grab their attention was a look at how West Virginia mauled the one team that has marred MSU's record so far this season.

"I did watch them," Bost said, "they beat the Akron team that beat us. They're traditionally a good team and they have a good coach so I know they're going to come out to play." Speaking of challenge, Bost is drawing one whichever Mountaineer guard he ends up, well, guarding. Jabarie Hinds might be 5-11 but his four assists and 11.8 points show he plays a good bit bigger than the listing. Then there's Darryl Bryant, or ‘Truck' as others call the 6-2 senior, with a 14.4 average and 3.6 assists of his own.

"I know Truck Bryant, the shooting guard. He's a typical New York guard, he's going to come play hard every night." Asked to expound on the species, "They have a ‘swagger' about themselves, they attack the rim, they do the pick-and-roll, not normally good shooters but know how to play," Bost said.

The Bulldogs also know what Saturday can mean not just for the pre-SEC record but for their season as a whole. They have already notched wins against high-profile opposition with wins over Texas A&M and Arizona in, ironically enough, New York City, the nerve center of Big East basketball. Those two victories did as much as all other State wins to earn their current ranking.

This, Bost said, can be the next step.

"This is one of those games we need, a good resume win. They're a good team even though they're not ranked. Rankings don't mean nothing, they're a good team." Well, not exactly nothing…Bost doesn't deny there's a measure of pride in finally having a number in front of the team's name again. Another win would surely bump the Bulldogs up into the top-twenty, too.

So yes, "We're ranked. but we feel we're one of the most underrated teams in the country and still have a point to prove," Bost said. "We're going to go out there with the same chip on our shoulder."

If Bost is carrying anything on his shoulder other than those prominent tattoos these days, it surely hasn't affected his play. He is off to a splendid senior-season start averaging 17.0 points with 30 assists and 20 steals already. Bost is also pacing the offense in outside shooting with 19 treys and 52 tries. Yet he insists this is not another case of shoot-first, pass-second.

In fact, despite the team-leading numbers Bost doesn't even consider himself the first offensive option. That would be big-forward Arnett Moultrie, who returned from a two-game absence for 20 points against North Texas. The junior is averaging 16.0 points and 10.8 rebounds, and is naturally the first target of a Bost post-pass. Beyond 48% shooting there isn't much to improve in Moultrie's game…but that hasn't kept him from trying, said Bost.

"He works on his game, he plays defense and rebounds, and he does it all. So I look for him to keep getting better as the year goes on." Of course Moultrie needs to be at his current-best tomorrow because he is up against West Virginia power forward Kevin Jones with his 21 points, 12.2 rebounds reputation.

"He's pretty good," Bost said. "But we have one of the best four-men in the country. So it will be a great matchup."

Meanwhile there will lots of backcourt fun as a revamped Mountaineer lineup develops. So is State's guard rotation which is not exactly new yet is playing in a very different way than last winter. Bost might be leading the lineup but he's far from the only playmaker here this year. The result is a more fluid and versatile approach.

"I rely on my teammates for stuff we haven't been able to do in the past, because I've got other people that can create shots," Bost said."In previous years we had spot-up shooters and I had to try to create everything, but this year I've got Rodney, DeVille, Brian, Jalen, everybody. We've got people who can get it and go, and people who can read the floor."

Not only that but allow Bost to operate in a variety of positions. He's soon to become the all-time assist champion at Mississippi State, and isn't that far from his 200th career trey as well. Now, though, he has actually found himself matched with small forward types. Seems a lot to ask of a 6-2, 176 pounder, but Bost kinda likes this opportunity to display other skills.

"Two and three are no different. You might guard bigger guys but I like both of them, show my versatility." Oh, and there's another benefit for Bost not having to carry so much load. He isn't quite as worn-down as in previous seasons on the morning-after a long game. "I still feel tired, but I also feel I can come in the next day and have a hard practice."

Practicing is all the Dogs have done since last Sunday's win. And after tomorrow it will be a whole week more before the schedule resumes. This contrasts completely with playing eight games in the first 20 days, and one would think State welcomes the break. Not so, at least not Bost.

"I wish we were playing more but with finals and stuff we're finishing school up. So we like it." They'll like their downtime even better with another record- and RPI-raising victory to keep Mississippi State climbing the rankings.

"We just have to keep playing hard. For it to be early in the year we're in a good spot. But we still have a lot to improve on a long way to go." At which point Bost left to rejoin the team for post-practice business…basketball business, that is. Remember, this was once an all-state quarterback on a championship team, so no wonder he's interested in what the current Bulldog football coach is thinking these days.

And if worst comes to worst? "I'll coach them!" Bost offers.

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