“I mean, in this business you go through a lot of things,” Ray said in the morning SEC teleconference. “That’s right up there at the very top.”
‘That’ being the in-flight engine failure on the two-engine charter plane which was—was—to bring Mississippi State back home Saturday evening. Something taken entirely for-granted these days turned into a short scare and a longer-than-expected return to campus.
The trip went well enough initially. Mississippi State jumped to as much as a 20-point lead in the first half and held on late for a 77-74 final. It was the first Bulldog win over Missouri as a SEC rival, albeit in only the third such meeting. And it certainly was a change of pace after previous 78-36 and 85-66 scores.
That win puts State back within another victory of break-even on the season at 12-13. They are 5-7 in league play, with the most SEC wins of Ray’s three seasons so far.
But today’s story remains how the Bulldogs got back home. After takeoff from Columbia an engine blow-out forced an emergency landing at St. Louis. Fortunately, that was the extent of the drama. Or trauma.
“The whole key is the flight attendant and pilot did a great job keeping everybody cool,” Ray said. “And more importantly, did a terrific job with the landing. The landing was just as smooth with one engine as two.”
The travel party was able to stay overnight in Festus, Mo., before a Sunday bus ride and 4:00 arrival in Starkville. Sure, Ray said, there was a quick check of any other available air transport Saturday evening. Whether everyone would have boarded, now…
“We’ve got a couple of guys that have a fear of flying in the first place,” Ray said. “If we were able to secure another charter at that time, I seriously doubt they’d have got on the plane anyway.”
The coach and club can joke about it all today. And by lucky break of the SEC schedule, they have a day longer than usual to put it behind and prepare for the next game. Or games for that matter. The other break is after a lot of road games the Bulldogs are on the home court for three-straight contests.
The home-stand begins Thursday, when Mississippi State hosts rival Ole Miss at 8:00. This is where the ‘breaks’ end. The Rebels are 17-8, tied for third in the SEC at 8-4, and are among the conference’s hotter squads. Ray has barely begun scouting, for obvious reasons, but knows the challenge in store.
“They’re really playing well, scoring well. We’ve got to find a way defensively to slow them down a little bit, and make sure we’re attacking them offensively.” Ray does have reason to expect the Dogs can do the latter. State was on the attack two weeks ago when they played the host Rebels down to the final minutes before losing 79-73.
The rematch is in Humphrey Coliseum, where Ray has won both prior meetings in the rivalry. The coach also has renewed optimism in how his team bounced back from a frustrating home loss to Alabama last week with a road victory in a hostile setting.
“We got a good, quality road win, we obviously played well the first half. We were able to hang on and make some tough plays down the stretch.”
And then, show a touch of toughness in handling a scary situation. While preparing for a series of games against Ole Miss, Arkansas (Saturday) and #1 Kentucky (next Wednesday) is the toughest such stretch on this schedule…at least nobody has to pack up and board another charter.
“I’m sure some guys will be a little hesitant to get on another plane,” Ray agreed. “But I’d rather get on an hour plane trip than a four or five hour bus ride.”