Bulldogs Face Tall Tiger Challenge Wednesday

The best way to bounce back from a tough week on the road is to enjoy some homecourt success. But while Rick Stansbury is pleased to play in friendlier settings, he can also think of a guest he'd rather invite to Humphrey Coliseum this week than what the SEC scheduler has assigned.

"We've got our work cut out for us," the Mississippi State coach said this morning, discussing his team's impending contest with Louisiana State. The Bulldogs (11-5, 1-2 SEC) host the Tigers (10-5, 2-0 SEC) tomorrow evening at 7:00, and everybody coming to Humphrey Coliseum knows what to expect from the visitors.

"LSU has one of the best frontcourts in the nation, I don't know if there's one better than in those three guys," Stansbury said. He was referring to the troika of center Glen Davis and forwards Tyrus Thomas and Tasmin Mitchell. They not only are the best front line in the SEC, they are the youngest with a soph center and two true freshman forwards. But they play beyond their years.

"You look at their production on the backboards," Stansbury said, as LSU is running away with the SEC rebound title that for the past five years belonged to State. "And then they're averaging 18, 14, and 13 points (Note--actually 18, 11, and 10.) They're not just good defensively, they're good offensively. And they have a great guard in Darrel Mitchell." Mitchell is the team's only perimeter scorer of note, but then again the Tigers don't require too much outside offense. And LSU's 8-5 record going into SEC season is misleading, Stansbury notes.

"They've played a good non-conference schedule and they're road-tested.

Meanwhile the Bulldogs are glad just to be off the road after losses at Florida and Ole Miss. About all State brought back from those unsuccessful trips was hard experience and a greater appreciation of home-court advantage, which paid off before those trips when the Dogs edged past Arkansas in their league debut.

If there were other benefits from last week, it has to be the return to action of senior guard Jamall Edmondson and the continued progress by forward Charles Rhodes. The sophomore matched his young career-high best of 24 points Saturday, the third-straight game he has scored double-digits. Due to matchups his rebound total at Oxford was just five, after Rhodes bagged nine boards in each of the previous three games.

"He's more confident in himself and we're more confident in him," said Stansbury of the soph's development. "Last year he didn't play a lot, this is the first time he's gotten any continuity. That's what we're looking for in Charles, is consistency." Particularly on the defensive end, the coach added. Rhodes himself admitted to not getting a lot done on D last week and tried to take all blame for Saturday's loss. That was a noble but over-stated case as few Dogs guarded very well at Oxford. Still his coach likes that kind of talk because this is where his young post player can make even greater impact as the season plays out.

"And that will make him a better offensive player. We've talked to him that he ought to get three, four offensive rebounds a game, get to the free throw line. That's another six points. We've got to keep him playing hard, that's the key, then he's defending, running the floor."

This game brings Rhodes' most serious defensive challenge to-date, though. "It's no secret," Stansbury said of the matchups. "He'll guard both." As in, both the 310-pound Davis and the 6-7, 210-pound Thomas, who belies lack of bulk with explosive leaping and footwork. "But to start he'll match up on Thomas," Stansbury said. "You choose your poison!" This puts 7-2 Wesley Morgan on Davis to begin with.

How the Bulldog backcourt sets up and plays through 40 minutes is a good question as of now. All bodies are available, the coach said, but their playing time is unpredictable. For his part Edmondson returned after a three-game, three-week layoff with hamstring and groin problems to play 22 minutes off the bench at Ole Miss. He scored five points but took only three shots.

"We had him in the game with basically no practice," said Stansbury. "It's obvious he wasn't much of a factor. He at least got in a little work Sunday shooting, and he practiced some yesterday. We anticipate getting him in the game earlier, and we hope he's more productive at home."

The lineup needs a more active and productive Edmondson for several reasons, not the least to let freshman wing-guard Jamont Gordon play more than out on top. Gordon has started two games at point and performed well with 28 total points and 16 assists. And it didn't hurt his rebounding noticeably as he still pulled in 16 boards. "That's pretty good no matter where we put him at," the coach said. But, Stansbury added, taking the team's best shooting/scoring threat off the wings not only adds to Gordon's duties but actually crimps the rest of the offense.

"It changes everything, because he's not a pass-first point guard, he doesn't get as many people involved. The positive thing is it's hard to stop him going to the hole." Ideally, Gordon can get the pass on the move already and make his way to the goal even more quickly playing off-the-ball. Even at the point he still thinks like a forward, the coach points out. "He's got to learn you can't go make a play every time he's got the all in his hands. That's a process he has to learn. And I think we stand around a bit more when he has the ball. The flip side is he makes things happen going to that hole."

Meanwhile the coaching staff is waiting-and-seeing about their other point guard. Freshman Richard Delk, who missed the first seven games of the schedule with a ‘hot spot' on a foot, is suddenly gimpy again. Partly it is a bruised thigh left from the Arkansas game, but Stansbury worries the foot problem is cropping back up. "He just doesn't have the athleticism and quickness he once had. I don't know if rest is the answer, it's hard to rest this time of year. He says the foot isn't hurting but you can see he's lost his explosion and quickness. But we're playing Jamont too many minutes, we need to get Richard in there."

The staff will have a better idea of everyone's health and availability following their Tuesday afternoon practice.

Gene's Page Top Stories