Bulldogs Stay Busy Preparing For Tigers

If the Bulldogs had been anticipating some down-time during this week with only one game on their SEC schedule…they're still waiting. "We haven't had any down-time," Coach Rick Stansbury said Thursday morning. "We're practiced all the way through."

The practicing and preparing continue for two more weekdays as Mississippi State approaches the weekend and resumption of conference competition. The Bulldogs (10-6, 1-2 SEC) host Auburn in Humphrey Coliseum for a 2:00 Saturday contest. And after seeing what the Tigers did last night, Stansbury is likely glad he has kept the team busy.

Auburn evened their league record and scored a second SEC win on the home court by knocking off Tennessee in a three-point thriller at Eaves Coliseum. The Tigers improved to 12-7 overall and 2-2 SEC. And, eased most of the sting from coming up just short Saturday at LSU against those other Tigers. Stansbury hopes this has alerted the Bulldogs to the necessity for non-stop preparations if they want to square their own SEC standing.

"Auburn is coming off a big win last night, that's a definite confidence booster for them. And at LSU they had a chance to win the game. So I'm sure (Coach) Jeff Lebo is going to preach to them about the next opportunity, let's go to Mississippi State and get it."

With the conference standings tight and expected to stay that way all season, getting road wins—or even just one win--will likely be the decisive factor in all sorts of March matters such as championships, seedings, and post-season bids. This only makes the counter-case just as vital to a team like State, which must also defend the home court after a couple of road losses in the early going. Particularly now that the Dogs are about to open the longest homestand of their SEC season with three-straight games upcoming.

Not so long ago the first of the trio might have been assumed as a home-court victory. No longer. Stansbury hopes a review of Tiger tape from last night puts his Dogs on their toes. He certainly expects Auburn to be riding real momentum coming to campus, after rallying from 14 points down to defeat a Volunteer team that beat the Bulldogs by eight in Knoxville.

"I think it makes it easier to prepare," Stansbury said of Auburn's attitude. "It puts a little extra step in your kids, they listen better."

Speaking of ‘better' that was exactly what the Mississippi State coach had in mind for this week's work. On Monday he mentioned a few specific areas of focus for drills, but really Stansbury wanted all-around attention to every aspect from individuals and team alike. And every day, too, though "Maybe there's been some adjustments in practice, but no days-off," he said.

"We were just doing a lot of little things. Naturally it's a fine line whether you are going too long and too hard, and at the same time trying to get some rest. We concentrated on some areas and doing some things, and we'll see Saturday if we got any better in those areas."

One area of obvious concern remains a team tendency to turn the ball over or to force things and fail in decisive situations. The Bulldogs still have a negative assist/turnover ratio, though it isn't as lopsided as last season. Yet inevitably attention turns to exactly how State has managed to come up short in the last four losses. And the largest share of the criticism just as naturally falls on the point guard, which most often—and always at crunch time—has been soph Jamont Gordon.

Stansbury hears the questions, and his answer is not changing. He defends Gordon based on efforts over the entire game, not just what happens in the final seconds. "The one thing you can't lose sight of, there are some guys that turn the ball over but I don't know if anybody competes as hard or does anything harder than Jamont does. That's why I'm so patient with him."

Gordon has, generally, rewarded such faith and patience through this season. He is the leading scorer, rebounder, and passer on the squad, often all in the same games. And his combination of strength and speed make Gordon the Bulldog best-equipped to create something however the other team defends the court. At the same time Stansbury is not giving the soph carte blanche to play as he pleases; he even sat the starter for 20 minutes in MSU's last win, at home over Ole Miss when other guards were getting the jobs done.

"Naturally we don't like it," Stansbury said of late-game mistakes and missed opportunities. Still those can't be piled on to one player or position. And if Gordon's driving attempt to tie in the last seconds at Kentucky was blocked, review showed the home team had the court well-covered to defend spot-up shooters. So here too the coach is striking a balance of stressing improvements without ignoring efforts.

"And we're showing signs of getting better," Stansbury said. "Some times it doesn't happen when you want it to. I'll continue to be patient (with Gordon) because he does so many things and competes so hard."

NOTE: Saturday's game will not be telecast live. The radio broadcast is available on MSU's 30-station network, and a video replay at 11:00pm on State's subscription service Maroon to the Max.

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