MSU to face Tennessee in the Hump

STARKVILLE, Miss. - Having jumped to 11th in both of this week's national Top 25 college basketball polls after posting their third straight SEC win by double figures this past Saturday against Georgia, the Mississippi State Bulldogs (16-1, 5-1) close out their brief two-game homestand by playing host to the Volunteers of Tennessee (10-5, 2-3) Wednesday evening on the MSU campus. Tip-off for the 107th series renewal of this inter-divisional matchup is slated for 7 p.m. at Humphrey Coliseum.

Tabbed with their highest national ranking since being voted seventh by AP and eighth in the coaches' Jan. 6 poll following December non-conference wins over 11th-ranked Xavier and No. 5 Oklahoma a year ago, coach Rick Stansbury's 16-1 Bulldogs are still just a last-second basket away from being undefeated through the first 17 games of the current season. Following the Jan. 13 heartbreaking 67-66 home loss to then-No. 5 Kentucky on Erik Daniels' game-winning, buzzer-beating basket, MSU has since reeled off consecutive league victories on the road over both LSU (64-54) and then-No. 17 Florida (79-68) as well as at home over Georgia (71-58) all by double figures. Prior to the team's current streak, the last time a Mississippi State club had claimed three straight SEC wins all by double digits took place during the 1995-96 campaign when the Bulldogs knocked off Auburn (69-58), Georgia (86-68) and Kentucky (84-73) en route to capturing the school's first-ever SEC Tournament championship and subsequently making the program's first NCAA Final Four appearance.

Off to their first 5-1 SEC start since the 1993-94 State squad went 6-1 to begin league play, the Bulldogs are coming off a week in which they shot a collective 53.3 percent (57-107 FGs) from the field against Florida and Georgia, while limiting the opposition to only 36.4 percent (44-121 FGs) field-goal shooting for the week. In doing so, MSU now tops the Southeastern Conference in both field-goal percentage (47.7%) and scoring margin (+9.7 ppg) for conference games only. Defensively, the Bulldogs pace the league in both rebounding offense (40.2 rpg) and steals (10.2 spg) for all games, while rating second in rebounding margin (+6.5 rpg).

Individually, MSU is powered by the talented inside-outside tandem of junior forward/center Lawrence Roberts and senior guard Timmy Bowers, who rank sixth and 10th, respectively, among the SEC's leading scorers at 16.5 and 15.6 points per contest. Having developed into a solid midseason candidate for both the SEC Player and Newcomer of the Year Awards in his first season in Starkville, Roberts also ranks second in the league in rebounding (10.4 rpg) and fifth in field-goal percentage (57.3%). The former Baylor transfer by way of his native Houston paces the SEC and stands tied for second nationally behind UConn's Emeka Okafor (12) with 11 double-doubles on the season - 33 for his three-year collegiate career. Roberts was this week named to the Midseason Top 30 list of candidates for this year's prestigious John R. Wooden Award.

Now ranking as Mississippi State's all-time winningest basketball player in surpassing Jay Walton (81 wins; 1992, '94-96) with 82 victories after the team's 71-58 home triumph over Georgia this past Saturday, Bowers also rates among the SEC's Top 10 statistical leaders in assists (3rd; 4.5 apg), steals (5th, 1.9 spg), made 3-pointers per game (5th; 2.3/gm), three-point field-goal percentage (8th; 34.8%), and free-throw percentage (9th; 76.2%). Most recently, MSU's team co-captain nearly recorded his first career double-double with 15 points and a career-high nine assists this past weekend against Georgia.

Guided by third-year head coach Buzz Peterson, the Tennessee Volunteers are 10-5 overall and 2-3 in conference play after dropping a 65-62 home decision to the nationally ranked Louisville Cardinals this past Sunday in Knoxville. Having dropped their last three decisions, the Vols most recently fell in league action at South Carolina, 85-64, and at home in overtime to the Kentucky Wildcats, 69-68. Like Mississippi State, Tennessee features two of the SEC's Top 10 scoring leaders in league leader Scooter McFadgon and 6-10 junior forward Brandon Crump at 18.6 and 15.8 points per game, respectively. A junior transfer from the University of Memphis who's in his first season playing for the Volunteers, McFadgon also paces the SEC in free-throw percentage (93.8%). UT also showcases one of the conference's best young playmakers in sophomore point guard C.J. Watson, who tops the SEC in assists (5.7 apg) along with averaging 11.6 points and 4.4 rebounds an outing.

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