Ray, Dogs Now Seek Winning SEC Consistency

The road has been rough. But home court is proving so sweet for the Bulldogs. Now if they can take further advantage, Mississippi State will return to the road with a winning SEC record. Though, Rick Ray does see one potential pitfall, home or away.

It is how his team copes with victory. Take their previous experience when Mississippi State was riding high after beating Ole Miss in a down-to-wire rivalry matchup. "We laid an egg against Alabama," Ray reminded. "So how do we deal with success?"

This is something Ray acknowledges his team hasn't gotten a lot of experience with, at least not in conference season. It has been 54 weeks since a Bulldog team has won consecutive SEC games after all. Still any sort of streak has to begin with one victory and Mississippi State scored a good one Saturday by outlasting Texas A&M 81-72 in overtime.

State evened-up the league record at 2-2 in the process. And, they did get a ‘streak' of sorts going too as both SEC wins have come in Humphrey Coliseum. This is where they stay too, hosting Auburn on Wednesday. Holding serve at home will push the Dogs over conference break-even for the first time since early January 2013…

…if they can show some new consistency. Gavin Ware knows this team has been fine with the up-and-down swings so far which comes in handy after a loss. "We have to handle adversity," said the sophomore center. "But handle success also and not take it to your head."

Getting cocky about a 12-5 overall record shouldn't be an issue. Not even with an 8-7 Auburn team which has yet to win a SEC game and is 0-3 on the road coming to town. Though it is something Ray will be watching for after State's best showing of the season so far. The Aggies came in tied for the conference lead and playing a style which seemed ideal to defeat the Dogs at each end.

Mississippi State turned things upside-down not just by winning. They did so by beating the visitors at their own best game. "I thought it was a huge win against Texas A&M," said Ray. "They came in leading (the SEC) in field goal defense and scoring defense, I knew it was going to be a grind-out game." Which is an obvious concern for a short-handed Dog team which was even shorter on Saturday without injured point guard I.J. Ready.

Yet Ray's team turned out the tougher, rallying from ten points down midway of the second half to first force an overtime—on a defensive stop—and then dominate overtime entirely. Eight Bulldogs were enough to handle the whole 45 minutes against an Aggie team that should have been in the better position.

"I thought it was imperative our guys realize the way Texas A&M played the game it was going to be a grind," Ray said today. With Ware and guard Craig Sword combining for 45 points, the Bulldogs were better grinders. So, "I'm looking forward to more SEC play," said Ray.

Staying home certainly helps this attitude. There is even a degree of natural optimism about the matchup as State won last year's only meeting, at Auburn and in overtime and against several same Tigers who'll be at tipoff Wednesday. Yet it is not so much the opponent that causes one concern going into the week.

It is this team's challenges with keeping any positive consistency. Being able to rebound from defeat is a great thing; being able to start a win streak that much better. Ray was already studying this troublesome trend before SEC season, but don't look for the coaching staff to try any tricks in the practice build-up.

"We're not going to change anything at all," Ray said. "It's all in the mindset of our players." This is not a direct criticism though. The second-season coach understands why such stuff happens. "Our players haven't had the chance to experience success in the past. Now they've got the chance. It's all about them growing up and maturing, it's not about our gameplan."

In other words, developing the right kind of consistency is caught rather than taught. Players must do it for themselves by winning once, then twice, and on and on. "We address it with them and talk about it. But it has nothing to do with how we do our routine, I believe."

The routine continues today despite school being out for the official holiday. As of late morning Ray still does not know if Ready will be back by Wednesday. The rookie is still recovering from a concussion suffered at Alabama after successfully taking a charge. "No update, still the same," was all Ray could say Monday morning.

Game time for Auburn is 7:00 with ESPN3 telecast.

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