Realistically the name isn’t the main thing for point guard Ready as his Mississippi State squad prepares Wednesday’s late game in Oxford (8:00, SEC Network). For that matter, he initially discounted whether this game should stand out in the SEC schedule more than others.
“I think everybody’s our rival! We really don’t like too many people around here!”
But, pushed farther on the topic, Arkansas native Ready agreed. When the Bulldogs visit Ole Miss for this half of the annual home-and-home, the dislike from the rest of State’s side is…well, rather stronger. “Oh, it’s like life-and-death!”
Mississippi State’s current condition is approaching critical as well. After encouraging wins over Vanderbilt and Auburn, the Bulldogs saw their brief SEC streak shot-down by Georgia. The home loss leaves State 9-10, 2-4 SEC. While there is lots of schedule still to play, there is plenty ground now to make up if the Dogs have any hopes of a solid league record in Coach Rick Ray’s third season. And, for that matter, trying to break-even for the year as a whole.
The largest reason for hope has come from the shortest member of the lineup. Since going scoreless and taking only one shot in a SEC opener with Tennessee, the 5-11 (right) Ready has asserted himself. He has averaged 13.8 points in the five conference games since, taken on average ten shots per-game and made 46% of them trey on a team that needs all the longballs it can manage.
But there is so, so much more to Ready’s season so far. A very surprising one too, since he was coming off preseason back repair; and even when healthy isn’t exactly a physical guard. Yet here he is, not only running State’s offense from the point position but just about becoming the offense himself.
“Yeah, I’ve been a lot more aggressive. I feel I’ve finally settled down in my rhythm.” If his assists total of 18 in six SEC games doesn’t impress, consider the lack of offensive options to distribute to. His teammates aren’t complaining if Ready has become a scoring point guard more than a passer.
His sophomore season really has seen Ready revert to what he was at Parkview High in Little Rock; the do-it-all guy who could take over games at each end. It’s just now he is doing the same things at the SEC level, with increasing success.
“I want to go get the ball and make the play,” Ready said. “Even if it’s knocking down free throw or guarding their player, or making a big shot or making the right pass if it comes to that. I want to be the person who makes that play and I feel my teammates pretty much have confidence in me right now.”
Besides, Ready pointed out, when he’s on his game…more often than not so are other Dogs. It’s as if they feed off their quarterback. “When I get scoring, the rest of the team gets scoring, too.”
It’s a fact, Mississippi State scoring has taken a radical turn for the positive the last two weeks. Since being held to 47 points by both Tennessee and Auburn, the Bulldogs have put up 70, 57, 78, and 72 points. That’s not blowing the lid off the SEC stat sheet by any means. But it is welcome progress from a roster Ray admits relies more on athleticism than pure skills.
Now though, State is taking on a Rebel roster that emphasizes offense. Ole Miss (12-7, 3-3 SEC) averages 74 points on 44% shooting this overall season. Last week they had one of those rare nights where everything thrown up against—and at—Arkansas went good. Back at home the Rebels made the plays down the stretch to edge Florida by free throws, at which they are 80% accurate.
So for Ready, this trip to they-who-ain’t-named sets up to be as challenging as anything State faces this month. Yeah, personally the Arkansas series is a bit more meaningful. But Ready has learned how fans in this state live and die by the twists-and-turns when Bulldogs and Rebels collide. In any sport.
“That in-state rivalry is ridiculous. But I love it. I’m a Mississippi State fan ‘til I die.”