Mississippi State assistant coach Phil Cunningham talked about MSU's win over Arkansas in Fayetteville."> Mississippi State assistant coach Phil Cunningham talked about MSU's win over Arkansas in Fayetteville.">

Phil Cunningham talks about the MSU win

<img src="http://www.genespage.com/images/coaches/basketball/philcunningham.jpg" align="left"> Mississippi State assistant coach Phil Cunningham talked about MSU's win over Arkansas in Fayetteville.

You said during the South Carolina game you didn't see any fear in your players eyes. This was a different game due to the fact that your players lost a big lead and only had a three-point lead with about two minutes to go. What did you see in their eyes at that point of the game?
"I didn't see fear; I saw fatigue. We were really tired. That was probably the biggest reason (Arkansas) made that comeback. We had, basically, played five people the entire game. After Gary (Ervin) had his back spasms, we stole a few seconds with Dietric (Slater) and Piotr (Stelmach) with a quick sub that Coach (Stansbury) made. Other than that, those guys played the entire second half and they played most of the first half, too.

"Even when the game started, we were a step slow. In the first tv timeout all of the coaches were talking about the players not having much energy tonight. But, thank goodness, we were making threes."

How important was it to your team to get such a big lead early?
"It gave us a lot of confidence, offensively. When a team plays zone - and that is what they have been playing the last two or three weeks - and you come out and hit a bunch of threes on them, that makes them doubt the effectiveness of their zone. What that did is loosen things up inside and we got some things inside because of that."

People talk about the players and what they learn from a season like this, but what do you, as a coach, learn from this season?
"Coach White and I room together on the road and we talk about how unique and special a season this is and how, as coaches, what are we going to take from it. I think the thing that I have learned from this team is how important mental and physical toughness is. But this team's mental toughness is just off the charts. They are always mentally prepared and they want to win so badly. But we also have a physically tough team, too. The one thing that strikes me about this team is the level of toughness."

Is toughness something you always look for in a recruit or is it something that you luck up on?
"You look for it, but you look for talent and ability and athleticism in recruiting first, then you look for all the other intangibles. The way recruiting is now, you aren't out there enough to see exactly what those kids are made of. A lot of coaches tell you. Like Branden Vincent, his coach at OW, Bruce Stewart, always told us how tough he was. The reason we recruited Branden Vincent was due to us seeing Kei Madison, who committed to us. After awhile we saw it, but a lot of times you can't see it. We knew it with Shane Power because he had been the most valuable defensive player at Iowa State. With Lawrence, we recruited him because of how talented he was. We didn't know how tough he was."

Is it now easier to recruit for Mississippi State due to all the publicity you guys are receiving?
"Without a doubt. Winning effects recruiting so much. When kids turn the tv on and you are ranked in the top 5 or 6 and your highlights are on ESPN, that is what kids want these days. That is all positive."

Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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