"As excited as we were to win the game against Stanford, now we have Duke facing us. It doesn't take you very long to lose a little bit of that excitement. But we are very fortunate and very happy to be playing Duke. Anytime you play Duke, you know you are playing one of the premiere basketball programs in the country. We know it will be quite a challenge for us and know that we will have to play exceptionally well to have a chance."
What is the key to your team staying stable and continuing to win?
"I don't know if any of us have control in keeping our team stable. One sprain ankle here or there..we have no control over that. Marcus Campbell pulled a muscle in our shoot around the night before our senior night. We had no control over that. This time of year, you hope those things don't happen because every game can be your last game."
Speaking of injuries, how healthy is your team?
"We are as healthy as we have been in two months because we have all of our bodies on the floor. Duke is like us, they are getting all of their pieces back at the right time."
After seeing what Marcus Campbell did against Stanford, does that raise your expectations of him for the game against Duke?
"Well, we need that kind of effort from him again. That's for sure if we want to have a chance against Duke. We need his big body and the same energy to play against Sheldon (Williams) inside. With it being this time of year, I would be very disappointed if there was anything less than that energy (Sunday)."
How difficult was it to hold your program together this year due to all the injuries, the defections and the tough losses?
"I've said this a lot; all the credit belongs to the players. They could have folded on several different occasions, but they didn't."
Has this been a disappointing year for your program?
"We all feel a little disappointed. The reason I say that is we were coming off three years in a row where we have won championships in the Southeastern Conference. I knew it would be difficult coming into this year because we lost two of our better players, but I still felt this team had a chance to compete for another championship. But at that time, we didn't know we would have all the issues that we had. We had Lawrence Roberts missing two or three weeks at the start of the season. Jamall Edmondson missed the first five weeks because of an eligibility problem. Then, after we worked that out, we were 14 and 2. Then, we lost (Winsome) Frazier, who is the glue guy on this basketball team. It was a real struggle then. We took a lick on the road, then got hammered about as bad as you can be hammered. This team could have very easily folded, but our kids handled it and kept playing. We found a way to win 22 games and reach the NCAA Tournament."
What has Lawrence Roberts meant to your program?
"It is very obvious what he has meant to our program. Last year, we finished 26-4, won the overall SEC Championship, went 8-0 in the Southeastern Conference, had a 16 game road winning streak, the longest in the nation. All that started with the play of Lawrence Roberts. He has led the Southeastern Conference in rebounding two years in a row. He's had numerous double-doubles these two years."
What does Shane Power bring to your team?
"Shane is a very heady basketball player. When we have all our parts working, he is a great piece. He is a young man who doesn't panic. He makes great decisions. He is probably a better defender than you think he is. For the most part, he was averaging 16 to 17 points a game down the stretch."
What will you do against Duke's J.J. Redick?
"We just have to hope he doesn't have one of those games that he is capable of having. If he has that kind of game, there is absolutely no defense for it. When he comes off those screens and shoots those turnaround, fall-away jumpers from 30 feet, there is no defense for them. There have been times that he hasn't shot it that way. You have to hope he isn't at his best when we play him."
After being up and down the latter half of the season, why do you think your team will be up for this game after playing so well against Stanford?
Is there any team in the Southeastern Conference that compares to Duke?
"Florida and Alabama are as talented as anybody, but I don't know if anybody plays like they do. The are going to spread out around the big guy. I don't know if Florida and Alabama spread out around one guy like they do. Duke can really stretch you out with that dribble. We had some guys who can really shoot it in our league, but we have nobody who can shoot it like Redick when he is shooting that basketball. (Daniel) Ewing has become a great point guard. They also have a great rhythm offensively. And they play extremely hard defensively. I think that is the one thing that separates them from anyone in our league. They are going to play man to man and get into you and pressure you, moreso than most people in our league does."
You get to play Duke. Talk about that.
"It's a great opportunity for us. We took advantage of an opportunity Friday night to beat a great program like Stanford, a team that had already beaten a number 1 seed, Arizona. Now we are playing, arguably, the best team in the country with the best coach in the country. So, there is a huge opportunity for us. We just want to seize it."
What was the difference between the Mississippi State team against Stanford and the one that has struggled the past few weeks?
"I think when we got down by 12 we didn't panic. We regrouped. I told the guys before the game that if we got down our spurtability would bring us back."
How does it help this team to have so many seniors?
"With so many seniors, we aren't ready to go home yet. There is a sense of urgency with this team. We are hungry."
Was the game against Stanford an example of what this team can be?
"I think we finally put it all together. The toughness was there, our intensity and energy was there. We played as a team. (Winsome) Frazier was shooting well. I knocked down a few shots. Harp (Ontario Harper) did what he does on the baseline. Lawrence (Roberts) was a beast down low. (Marcus) Campbell came in and gave us great energy and size. We had 11 guys who played major minutes in the game. That was what we expected from the beginning of the season. I don't know why it has taken so long but it's here now. And that is the most important thing."
Will it matter to your team if you have 15,000 North Carolina fans cheering you on in your game against Duke?
"That's a funny question. If UNC fans want to give us support, we will be happy to take it."
Let's say you were in the NCAA Tournament playing a team and Ole Miss fans were in the stands. Would they be cheering against you with all their heart?
"I guarantee you of that." (The reporters all laughed.)
What makes Mississippi State such a compelling story this year?
"I think all the adversity that we have overcome, all the injuries, some guys being on the team or not being on the team. The team has been on a roller coaster all year, but we have found a way to keep a balance, mentally and physically. It is all starting to come together now. It is a very interesting story. We do not want to go home. We are having fun playing with each other now."
Talk about the matchup between you and Duke's Sheldon Williams.
"It is going to be a tough battle. It is going to be two guys going after it from the jump. It should be a great matchup."
Speaking of your matchup with Williams, what does having Marcus Campbell in the middle do to that matchup?
"When you have a 7-footer that comes off the bench with that kind of energy, that opens up everything from outside to inside."
In January you guys were ranked 11th, then you got beat by Tennessee and got blown out by Alabama. Was that a maturity factor or some other factor causing that?
"It was an injury factor. Due to injuries, we were inconsistent with our lineup."
What would it mean to the Mississippi State program to defeat Duke Sunday?
"Everybody knows about Duke. We love to have the opportunity to play Duke. We want to go in and have an exciting game with them. If we play with the same energy (as we did against Stanford), it should be a great matchup."
Since you have been at Mississippi State, have you matched or exceeded your expectations?
"It has been great. I can't imagine a better place, from the fans to the players to the coaches. After all that I had gone through, this was what I wanted to come to. I have loved every bit of it."
You thought about going to the NBA last year, but decided not to. Talk about that experience and why you decided to come back to school.
"It was a learning experience. It was one of those things where the opportunity presented itself and I wanted to take advantage of it. It was up to my parents and me to decide what I wanted to do."
Obviously, Duke has a good perimeter game. What do you guys need to do to combat that?
"They have some great guards, but we have some guards ourself. We have to chase them out of their shots. We need to make everything difficult and make them work for it."
Why are you guys such a good rebounding team?
"From 1 through 5, you have to want to go in and mix it up a little bit. That is what we practice."
You have been an up and down team this year. Why do you think you will be up for the game against Duke?
"We just have to play with the same energy. While our season has been up and down, that can be thrown out the door now. To stay in this tournament, you have to win."
Mary Ann Swindoll is the editor of Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact her by email at email@example.com.