Bost, #17 Bulldogs Resume Season Saturday

It's been a good start. Great, even, in many estimates. That doesn't keep Dee Bost from having one nagging regret. "Yeah, I was wishing we were undefeated!"

Which they unfortunately aren't. But with a 8-1 record against quality competition and a #17 national ranking, Mississippi State should be almost entirely satisfied with how their season has progressed so far. Now the Bulldogs resume the pre-conference schedule with a home game, first action in a full week, as they host Troy (4-3) tomorrow. Tipoff at Humphrey Coliseum is 3:06 with a number of tickets available for order now and at the gates.

The weekend is more than a re-start to the successful season for Bost. It marks completion of fall final exams, to which the Bulldogs have been devoted the last few days. State hasn't exactly scrimped on practicing, of course, as well as weight and conditioning work. So not playing games has not translated into down-time.

"It's hard, especially when you've got a lot of work to do. It can be stressful at times," said senior Bost who has been through this end-of-semester drill a lotttt of years already. At least he can tell the younger pups who've just been slapped in the face by their first round of finals that yes, it does get better.

"When you're done you have a lot of time. I don't know if we have a lot of games but hope we can take some days off, practice, and just chill."

The day-off idea does not include Saturday. This is not a, say, West Virginia coming to campus. This is a Troy program that has provided Mississippi State with eight wins in as many meetings. For that matter the Trojans are the fourth, out of five, Sun Belt programs the Bulldogs host this semester and State is already 3-0 at the lesser league's expense. So far, so good…

…and so what? At least that is the tone Bost is trying to set for the squad. "You just have to take the same focus as if you're playing the number-one team in the country." OK, cliché. And few figure State can muster the identical intensity for a Troy team as they did any of the other, bigger names on this semester's slate.

But that is exactly the point to point guard Bost. This is a matchup for MSU to play just as a ranked and rolling team ought to. Which, the senior reminds, has not always happened in his previous seasons.

"You can't have those slip-ups, that's what we're known for having in the past years. And we're trying to eliminate that. And it starts on the defensive end with us."

Veteran Dogs need look no farther back than November 2010 for an example of a near slip-up, when they had to outlast Troy 92-83 in overtime. State trailed by 11 in the second half and needed a three-point barrage to rally, before the Trojans themselves forced an extra period. Bost wasn't participating or even present, as he was serving a NCAA suspension.

"But I was keeping up with it," he said. "I remember they had hit a three-pointer at the buzzer." To force OT, that is. State ran away in extra play with half their 18 points coming from the foul line. The Dogs also edged Troy in three-pointers made, twelve to ten, which was something of a surprise. The Trojans, coached by late-1970s Mississippi State assistant Don Maestri who is now in his 30th season at Troy, live and die by the outside shot. They average a dozen made-treys per game, tops in the country right now.

There's no minor irony to the matchup because for much of his own career Bost has played with Bulldog clubs which also preferred long-range shooting to set-up offense. Though they're trying to become a more powerful attack this winter, at least these older Dogs know very well how perimeter-oriented offense functions…and how it can be slowed if not stopped.

"We just have to put pressure on them and run them away from the three-point line, make them put it on the ground," Bost said. "So we have to set the tempo with this team." He means both on the floor and in their minds, too. The Trojans come in with the proverbial puncher's chance and will surely take all their best shots against a top-twenty team.

"We can't have one of those games where they come in and this is probably their super bowl and teams try to come in and beat us," said Bost.

These Bulldogs have been unbeaten since November 9 and played near-unbeatable ball in their seven-win stretch. Only one of those winning margins was by less than double-digits, and Bost has usually led the way with his 17.0 average. That's up from the 15.3 points he scored as a junior in a half-season played. Nor has the pointing come at the expense of his point-guarding with Bost handing out 37 assists already. He's closing in on the program record for scoring passes which now is just 28 assists away.

What hasn't gotten as much attention is how Bost has busted the boards at a 4.6 clip. Not that he is a threat to forward Arnett Moultrie's league-leading rebound rate of 11.1, of course. Still the team's quarterback has worked the glass more aggressively than before, or chased down the longer caroms. For the moment he might need to keep this pace up with starting guard Brian Bryant serving a University suspension. Bryant had been a force on the boards himself, as well as a hard driver to the goal on the other end.

Bost isn't worried about much slack though. "Not really, even though he is like second on the team in rebounding I heard. So Arnett may go for that, he got 13 boards and it's just up to Jalen, me, and Rodney to go rebound more." Though sidelined, Bryant is still contributing to team preparations on the scout squad, Bost reports.

"He's on the gold team right now and a few times when Wendell (Lewis) didn't block him out Coach was yelling at him. He ain't that big but he knows how to get to the ball."

Jalen, as in Steele, has taken Bryant's starting spot in the interim. The soph guard isn't absolutely back to his freshman strength after that late-season knee injury, Bost agrees. "He says it gets stiff sometimes. But he keeps pushing through it, and he keeps making big shots for us." Leading to 11 and 10 points in the last two wins with five made-treys. If anything, Bost said, Steele ought to be more selfish out there.

"I tell him every time I pass it to him to shoot it, stop pump-faking and just shoot it. Because he's a good shooter, every time he shoots it I think it's going in. So he just has to keep shooting."

Without, that is, falling back into prior State tendencies to settle for the long shots and not work the paint harder. Having a force like Moultrie inside does bring lots of entry-passes, and the junior has responded with a stretch of 19, 20, and 21 point outings around a two-game stint on the bench. Moultrie is averaging a double-double for the early season, exceeding even the highest expectations.

By contrast starting center Renardo Sidney has settled for a supporting role, not to mention playing just over half a game with the usual conditioning questions. But when the junior shoots he scores at a 45% rate. The approach for now appears to get what can be gotten from Sidney, then shuttle in Lewis to flank Moultrie or just let rookie forward Rodney Hood take his offensive turns.

"However many minutes he plays we just want him to come in and play hard," said Bost of Sidney. "If he could score more that would help us in the long run, but…we're doing good right now!"

Very good in fact. Excellently, even, as the record and ranking remind. Bost said now the focus is keeping everyone in this winning rhythm and avoid the sort of trap games that have thrown State off-stride in the past. Yeah, that one mark in the ‘L' column is a little annoying, Bost agreed.

"But at the same time teams lose, nobody is perfect, and I'm glad we got a loss early in the year instead of late in the year."

Speaking of late-year, Mississippi State confirmed today that the December 31 home game with Utah State will move back an hour, to 2:00, allowing hopefully more fans to return from the Music City Bowl in time for tipoff.

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