Dogs Face First True Road Test At Detroit

It would make everything easier on everybody if the Bulldogs did not push their luck, not to mention their legs, all the way to the waning minutes before putting another opponent away. Still…whatever works, shrugs Dee Bost. "We always find a way to win. Even if a man is missing we have to come together and find ways to win."

And winning is what Mississippi State does best these days. A nine-game streak, which began over a month ago now, has carried Rick Stansbury's Bulldogs to a 10-1 record and a #17 national ranking. Not only that, but the best-percentage record in the entire SEC here in mid-December.

All well and very good. But now comes the next schedule-stage, and a different sort of test for streaking State. It is Saturday's appearance in Detroit (11:00am CT, FOX) to take on the host Titans. Yes, a true road game at last, Bost reminds.

"We're going to be on the road for the first time, so we have to keep playing hard."

These Bulldogs have played away from Humphrey Coliseum, of course. In fact their highest-profile victories in the ongoing streak came in New York City back in mid-November when State knocked off both Texas A&M and Arizona. That was on the neutral court of Madison Square Garden, though, hardly a hostile setting.

Detroit (5-7) will be another matter. And despite the losing record the Titans have settled down lately for a couple of victories, around a competitive loss to another ranked SEC squad Alabama. There are some familiar faces in the Detroit lineup too; three listed starters were on the squad that visited Starkville last season when State took a 82-76 win.

They include now-juniore Jason Calliste, a 6-2 guard who lit MSU up for 20 points with four treys. Also back is guard Ray McCallum, who added 16 points in the defeat. He's averaging 14.6 points so far this season while Calliste is netting just 9.5. the big Titan gun is another guard, lanky senior Simon Chase, notching 16.3 points to date with 5.3 rebounds.

Another Titan who State saw a year ago, 6-11 forward LaMarcus Lowe, has moved into the starting lineup for this rematch with 7.0 points and 5.4 boards. Though heavy on guards, Detroit has had mediocre outside shooting so far at under 28%. Which is actually just a bit worse than what State's perimeter defense has allowed this season.

For that matter defense has been the Bulldog strong point. If it seems a ‘cap' has been put on opponents of 68 points, well that has been the most State has surrendered; three times including in the last two wins. Though, in the most recent success, Dog defense was often a step slow with the result being a serious upset bid by Florida Atlantic.

State staved it off with clutch contributions from, primarily, senior Bost. He took and made the shots which mattered to ease out for a 75-68 win. "Somebody had to step up down the stretch," said Bost. "We just had to find a way to win."

No surprise that Bost would be called on at crunch time, despite having an otherwise-off night offensively. He finished 1-of-7 at the arc in fact, yet when it counted most came through. And, produced a game-best 22 points by making shorter shots as well as all his free throws. Many a guard around the land would love to have such an ‘off' night.

"I was trying to make plays and kind of put the team on my back," Bost said. "And at times help Rodney make plays."

Yes, Rodney. As in Hood, the fabulous freshman forward who also rose to late-game occasion Tuesday for 19 points and ten rebounds. His first college double-double, but surely not the last. The next time it oughtn't take Hood playing forty full minutes, either…though it is going to be increasingly hard for Stansbury to take this kid off the court.

Hood is averaging 12.9 points for the season on 55% shooting, and has shown a confidence level with his outside game as well as the explosive inside attacks. Yet this rookie has turned down quite a few shots too. It's not being shy, he insisted. "Just being smart, understanding the game."

Bost and Hood understood the need to deliver with a short-handed roster and thin frontcourt the other night. It would have been a radically different game with the double-double impact of Arnett Moultrie (17.1 points, a SEC-best 11.3 rebounds) on the court. But the junior power forward was confined to the bench for a third time this fall.

Tomorrow, Moultrie is back in the lineup. He is also over-due for a SEC Player of the Week recognition, not just for the raw stats but his sheer efficiency of 55% floor shooting and 89% accuracy at the charity stripe. Why, the 6-11 forward has even hit three of his four trey-tries.

Moultrie's impressive stats have allowed center Renardo Sidney to settle into a supporting sort of role, at least when he is on the court. That hasn't been easy for the big junior, whether from fast fouls or his ongoing conditioning issues. Sidney does have an impact when he does, or can, play at 9.6 points and 4.6 boards, and makes just over half his shots. He hasn't played more than 22 minutes since November 9, so Sidney hasn't been stressed too much yet.

Oddly, giving alternate center Wendell Lewis twice the usual minutes Tuesday (37 total) produced the same results as other, shorter outings with eight points and six rebounds. Stansbury likes how the junior plays his position off the bench…but he'd love to see Lewis assert himself as if a starter and take a larger role at each end. Because the ability is obviously there not to settle for a supporting role.

The really encouraging December development has been Jalen Steele's fast return to form. The soph has scored double-digits the last four wins, with 11 made-treys included. In fact he's hit 55% at the arc during this stretch, showing his spring knee injury really is a thing of the past.

"It's been feeling good lately, I just have to get my defense back where it needs to be," Steele said. Though, soon the soph will have to battle to keep that current starting job, as senior Brian Bryant is wrapping up a four-game suspension. "When he comes back we're going to put him back in the rotation and play hard," Steele said. Bryant's absence hasn't cost State anything on the record fortunately, and has given more minutes to rookie guard Deville Smith and, now, older guard Shaun Smith who made his '11-'12 debut Tuesday. Hip issues continue to dog this Smith, but Stansbury was glad just to get his long-suffering guard back in action again.

And, to hang on for a win not nearly as pretty as some others. It counts just the same though, and the Bulldogs have had a couple of days to re-set the focus on this first real road game.

"I remember Dee talking to somebody the other day, that it's hard to win on the road at any level," Hood said. "We just have to stick together and play to our ability."

All of it, adds Bost, because despite the sub-.500 record this is a dangerous Detroit club. "I watched them play a few times, they've got a pretty nice team," Bost said. But so does Mississippi State, as they have showed even when short-handed at times this semester. "We've got great team chemistry," he said adding that now "We'll have everybody back."

The Bulldogs will be back home Saturday evening with some more days-off before hosting Northwestern State next Thursday in Jackson.

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