Bryant, Bulldogs Refocusing For Home Stand

Brian Bryant has been around the ballcourt block enough to know better than read too much into a single strong showing. Then again, a good day on the stat sheet is something to enjoy. "You know some games you're going to have a hot hand, some games you're not," Bryant shrugs. "It's taking what the game is giving you."

Taking, and making. Which is what Bryant was doing Saturday when he got hot in Gainesville. The Mississippi State senior made good on five of his six shots, and knocked down his only three-point attempt of the afternoon, en route to an eleven-point performance. Maybe not a huge output compared to teammates like Arnett Moultrie and Dee Bost…but for Bryant it was a big day indeed.

After all, eleven points were as many as he'd scored in the previous three games combined. And 5-of-6 shooting at Florida was just as big a change of pace since in that same preceding stretch he was 4-of-16. For that matter Bryant had not stuck a trey since December 28.

So yes, he was taking what the Gator gameplan gave him to do. And doing it well. Just don't expect to see Bryant becoming a bombs-away Bulldog just yet.

"If it's there, it's there! I'm not going to rush it," he said today. "I'm not one of those players looking to score. But us being shorthanded coach says we need more out of me and Jalen."

#22 Mississippi State is running a hand short in the backcourt these days. As long as freshman guard Deville Smith is unavailable with his still-unresolved health issues, starting two-guard Bryant and alternate Jalen Steele must give the Bulldogs a bigger hand on offense. Steele, at 8.1 points per SEC game so far and a squad-best 17 treys in league play is doing his part.

Bryant? While scoring isn't his priority the senior showed Saturday he can rise to occasions. Not that he has much choice in the matter. With, basically, three guards available for two positions all must pick up their scoring paces. Not to mention work longer court-shifts.

"We have to push through it," Bryant said. "We know we'll mange through it. Everybody in the backcourt has to step up and take on a bigger role because we're short one man." Regarding that man, Coach Rick Stansbury said today there is no update on Smith's situation.

Bryant's own situation has shifted a couple of times here mid-season. He started eight pre-conference games, when Steele wasn't; then the younger guard got the tipoff-team task for the first three league games. Now senior Bryant is back in the first five as he'd hoped.

"Coming back in (from the holidays) I knew I was going to have to work to get back in the starting lineup." Though, Bryant added quickly, "It's not really about starting, it's helping my team be the best it can be." Stansbury has decided that for the moment Mississippi State is better with a pair of seniors, Bryant and Bost, taking tipoff and bringing Steele off the bench to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. With 13 treys in just the last four games Steele has done his part well; in fact the soph seems more comfortable shooting as a substitute than a starter.

Bryant by contrast isn't a shoot-first guy, odd for a two-guard perhaps but not a serious problem for State since Bost is more than happy to fire away. And where Steele is a gunner pure and simple, Bryant has a more rounded repertoire. He's a more active distributor of the ball and can be counted on for two or three assists each game. On defense he is even stronger, despite giving away 25 pounds to Steele, because Bryant is an explosive athlete. Anyone who has seen him explode for a flying slam vouches for that.

And no guard his size is better getting to the boards as Bryant has averaged almost four rebounds per SEC game. Defensive rebounds, mostly, but that slight size and fast first step has let him slice through traffic for quite a few tips and taps on the offensive glass.

Yet he was signed out of junior college as a point guard, which makes for an interesting chemistry between he and Bost. Essentially each shares both jobs, all the more so now without Smith.

"I run a lot of one with the second group when we're just going over offense," Bryant said. "And even with the first group Dee will run two and I‘ll run some one." Bryant might not be the same sort of quarterback on the court but Stansbury is comfortable.

"I trust him. He's not going to blow by people on ball screens but I trust him to make some decisions." Not least when to shoot and when not to. Speaking of which, nobody will ever use Bryant's video as a demonstration how to loft a jumper. The opposite, perhaps…

No, Bryant said, his coaches haven't tried to adjust his shot-style. "But after practice shooting Arnett and Dee try to tell me to change it. But I just can't! It's too late to change it!"

Meaning the senior will rely on his own style to get through the rest of this second and final State season. And speaking of getting through, even before Smith was excused Bryant was putting in good minutes. Now the load will only grow for he, Bost, and Steele. The demand might be as much mental as physical, Bryant said.

"It's times when you know you can't play the whole game," he said, yet one must do so anyway and not complain. Much less show tiredness. "It's just about the team, you can't be out there fatigued and getting beat off the ball and stuff." At the same time…no, let's not use ‘time' too much, just say by the same token, Bryant does welcome an open Wednesday date.

"The break came at a good time," he agreed. And not just to rest legs and minds. The schedule outlook might be busy once play resumes but at least A) the Bulldogs are home for the next three games and B) the opposition ought to be a bit lighter than recent road trips to ranked Vanderbilt and Florida.

"I think we played some of the tougher teams," Bryant said. "We can't look back on that loss, we have to work hard. And we really weren't looking to the future, we just look to one game at a time. We're not where we wanted to be but we're still in a good position to win the SEC." Especially with the chance to (looking ahead warning) score a string of wins against Auburn, Ole Miss, Georgia, and LSU? Bryant would be delighted to just win more than one or two at a time.

"I think we just never went on a good win streak," he said. "That was like putting pressure on ourselves to win the next game."

That next game comes at 3:00 Saturday for SEC Network telecast from Humphrey Coliseum. The Bulldogs had a Monday off entirely, and Stansbury said there would be a shortened Tuesday practice but still regular conditioning work. Auburn scouting won't be introduced until later in the week, after State coaches watch the Tigers play Georgia tomorrow evening.

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