Bulldogs Ready For Round-One With Rebels

It's called social messaging…but just how ‘social' Dee Bost is playing things this week is subject to interpretation. Such as his mocking comments about another trip to Oxford. "It's Ole Miss, everybody talks trash, especially during the game," Bost explained today. "I'm just starting it off early on twitter."

Bost's coach is not part of the on-line community. Even were he, Coach Rick Stansbury would likely not approve of such pre-emptive attitudes about Wednesday's matchup with the rival Rebels. Not even from a Bulldog like Bost who owns a 3-0 record at Tad Smith Coliseum. Or for that matter Stansbury himself, with his twenty wins in the rivalry and 5-0 success streak.

Set it aside for now, he says. "We try to stay pretty consistent. It's the biggest game of the year because it's your next one. It just happens to be Ole Miss."

And, just happens to be one of two challenging contests for 18th-ranked State (15-3, 2-1 SEC) this week. The Bulldogs are giving life on the SEC road a second shot with tomorrow's appearance in Oxford, then a weekend in Nashville against Vanderbilt. Stansbury's squad certainly wants to make these trips more successful than the first, a ten-point loss at Arkansas to open SEC season.

Mississippi State rebounded nicely from that initial setback with solid home-court successes against Tennessee and Alabama, which has the Dogs back in the top half of the very early league standings. Staying there means getting it right on the road this week…and as a bonus continuing to have the upper hand over the rival Rebels (11-6, 1-2 SEC). It will take more than talk, though Bost doesn't mind throwing out words—even virtual words—that he now must back up.

"I don't know," said Bost of his e-jibes. "I guess because every takes it personal, if we lost to them we're going to hear about it for a long time." Well, maybe not in the senior's case. But a rookie like forward Rodney Hood? He's about to take his first turn, and it sorta shows.

"I know people don't like Ole Miss," said the Meridian native. "I don't have nothing against them but I know State fans really want this one. So I'm excited for the game."

Hood does have an idea what he'll be up against in round-one. Who, rather, because with the Rebels starting a three-forward frontcourt the freshman seems likely to draw SEC veteran Terrance Henry. This isn't a typical three-man, Stansbury said. "That's a challenge, he's 6-9 and an experienced guy. But Rodney has been pretty consistent and pretty good."

Perhaps not on offense, where rookie Hood has seven and one points his last two SEC games. This after he tore through the pre-conference schedule with as impressive a semester as any State freshman for a very long time. He is 8-of-23 in SEC shooting so far, 3-of-11 at the arc, and not at all content to write it off to being a frosh in a physical league.

Just the opposite. "I've just been keeping my mind right, getting in the gym and taking extra shots to keep my confidence up," said Hood. How many extra? "200 shots."

"He's not a guy affected by scoring," Stansbury said of his prized pup. "Naturally some games he scores more than others. But nothing affects Rodney. He's a guy who is going to play the same way every night. And he has the opportunity to play around some guys on the inside where he doesn't have to be that guy every night."

Not with Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney perfecting their pairing in the paint. PF Moultrie is having a mostly-monster season so far with his 16.5 point, 10.9 rebound rate. Named SEC Player of the Week for the first time Monday, today the junior found out he is among the Wooden Award finalists. Moultrie is the first in this elite class of candidates since Lawrence Roberts in 2005.

"I saw the list," Bost said. "If he could win it, it would be special for him and for our team." Then of course Moultrie is playing pretty special ball already, with ten double-doubles and the SEC's best rebounding rate. Hood has first-hand evidence how his presence changes games. "Honestly you've got to get two people to block him out, he's that hungry for rebounds. And I haven't seen a team able to stop him from scoring. I think we've got the best frontcourt in the SEC, let alone in the country."

Because center Sidney has settled into his complementary role smoothly, producing a remarkably low-key 10.1 points and 4.9 rebounds. And he's shot exactly 50% in league play in the process, though Stansbury puts more weight on how the big junior has performed on the other end. Especially in a tough matchup with Alabama. "His defensive presence was a factor in that game, he made a huge defensive stop late. Hopefully he can take something from that."

State's threesome has to take their best into Wednesday since Ole Miss is strongest on the baseline too. A returned and rejuvenated Murphy Holloway has provided double-digit returns and junior Reginald Buckner is a proven presence between ball and goal.

"Buckner and Holloway and Henry are about as athletic as any guys in this league on the back line," Stansbury said. "Henry has put up numbers, and Ole Miss is probably more athletic than any of them at the five-spot with Buckner, he's their all-time blocked shots leader. Holloway is a fourth-year junior and his stats show it when you're averaging ten-plus."

Meanwhile four Bulldogs average double-digit points, including all three big men. "I think we match up real well," Hood said. "We're a good rebounding team, they're tall and physical up front, so it's going to be a test. But we're ready for it." Hood also anticipates more than just man-on-man matchups this game; he said today State will prepare some zone looks for a Rebel offense that struggles from outside.

"Because I think they're last in three-point shooting (in the SEC). So we're going to try to keep them out of the lane, and mix it up on them.'

State is neither last nor best in league outside shooting, but neither do the Dogs rely on outside offense nearly so much this season. At the same time they aren't turning down good open looks, least of all Bost. Even with his recent overall shooting slump the senior has made three-pointers against Tennessee and Alabama that mattered. And he enjoys scoring the ball in Oxford, such as last January when he took over in the second half in a Bulldog comeback win.

"I just seem to play my best up there. For some reason I seem to attack the basket and shoot jumpers. That's what I'm going to try to keep doing."

And, by extension, try to extend a State streak which means no current Bulldog has lost in Oxford. For that matter Bulldog sports as a whole have been on a roll in this rivalry, with football owning a three-year streak overall and a '10 win on the road. Though, Bost admits, there is a bit more intensity in that sort of example.

"For them it would be different because they only get to play once and have to wait a whole year to play them. Lose or win we have another shot at them, that's how I look at it." Not, of course, that the senior is willing to settle for a rematch shot. It would mean having to eat some words after all. Speaking of which, with whom is Bost most likely to exchange hashtags and LOLs with?

"Probably Henry!" he laughed. It's a social thing, after all.

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