Coming off a 68-64 overtime win against in-state rival Ole Miss, the MSU men's basketball team is peaking at the right time. With 6 wins in their last 7 SEC games, the Bulldogs are now in a first place tie with Auburn, a team they play this Wednesday night in Auburn.
Just a few short weeks ago, after an 0-3 start in SEC play, fans and sportswriters were wondering if this team could live up to the huge expectations left by the team of last season.
Not to worry.
Like MSU head coach Rick Stansbury said after the three losses, his players and coaches knew who and where they had played those three teams.
Two of the losses came against Florida and Alabama, both of whom were playing well at the time and even vaulted to the top spot in the nation before seeing that come to an end with losses. The other loss was to an inspired LSU team that had previously defeated Arizona, a team that was ranked number one when LSU defeated them in Baton Rouge.
While Florida has kept on winning, Alabama and LSU have wilted like a flower left without water.
Not so the Bulldogs.
After a heartbreaking loss to Alabama that put them at 0-3 in the conference, the Bullies, in a must-win situation, handily defeated South Carolina, 64-48, at home before 7,035 fans.
Now 1-3, the Bulldogs hosted the always pesky Tigers of LSU. The Tigers put a scare in the Dogs with a courageous effort that saw them cut a 12-point lead with less than a minute to go to a 1-point lead with 11 seconds to go. The Dogs prevailed and then headed to Oxford.
With the tough Georgia Bulldogs the next opponent after the Ole Miss game, the Bulldogs, now 2-3 in SEC play, needed another win very, very badly. They lose this game and then lose the Georgia game, a 2-5 record was staring them in the face.
Once again, this team showed the character it had shown after the 0-3 start.
Never intimidated by the boisterous Rebel crowd of 9,088, the Bulldogs built lead after lead. However, the Rebel team showed just as much heart as the Bulldogs and kept coming back.
With the Bulldogs seemingly in control of the game when they built a 6-point lead with 3:58 left on the second half clock, the Rebels roared back to knot the score, 54-54, with just 1:23 left on the clock.
Then, after the Rebels went ahead, 57-56, with just under 7 seconds to go in the game, Derrick Zimmerman drove down the court and scored on a driving layup as time expired to win it for the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs, now winners of 3 in a row, were 3-3 in the SEC with the Georgia Bulldogs up next.
After seeing the Bulldogs of Georgia jump out to a 11-point halftime lead, 40-29, the Bulldogs of Mississippi State roared back to go up by 5, 59-54, with just 3:50 left on the second half clock.
Then, Georgia's Ezra Williams took control of the game, scoring three unanswered 3-pointers to give Georgia a huge win and the Bulldogs a hard to swallow loss.
However, the MSU players and coaches, knowing their backs were once again up against the wall, left the bitter taste of another close loss on the road back in Athens and played their best ball of the season the next two games.
Fresh off a dominating win over Alabama, Vanderbilt came into town hoping to do the same to the Bulldogs.
The Bullies had other ideas.
The Bulldogs, playing in-your-face defense, jumped out to an early18-8 lead and never looked back, eventually defeating Vanderbilt 82-60.
Up next was Arkansas. The Bulldogs played even better, defeating them 84-54. Arkansas was so helpless against the tenacious Bulldog defense, they could muster just 18 points in the first half.
With a now two-game win streak in conference play, the Bulldogs were 5-4 in the SEC and breathing down the neck of the Auburn Tigers.
Next up was the Ole Miss Rebels. Coming in with a five-game losing streak which ironically started with the loss to MSU in Oxford, the Rebels had to have a victory to keep themselves in contention for any possibility of an NCAA Tournament bid.
In a see-saw battle before 10,429 fans, the Bulldogs prevailed in a dramatic overtime victory that left the Rebels 3-8 in conference play and very likely on the outside looking in as far as the NCAA Tournament is concerned, and the Bulldogs, now 6-4 in the SEC, in a tie for first place in the West with Auburn.
In another important game, the Bulldogs now travel to Auburn Wednesday night to play a game that will determine who will have sole possession of first place in the SEC West for the time being.
It won't be easy for the Bulldogs because Auburn is 4-1 at home against SEC foes and 12-2 overall at home while the Bulldogs are 1-3 on the road in the SEC. But it was about this time last year when the Bulldogs, who were 1-5 in SEC road play at the time, went on a tear that saw them win five of their last six regular season SEC games and the SEC Tournament.
Here's hoping history repeats itself.
MISSISSIPPI HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS:
Over the course of the last few weeks, I have been calling the top juniors in the state of Mississippi. I began posting profiles of those juniors last Monday. The profiles are mainly to be used as a get-to-know the players type thing and not as a recruiting article. Since the players don't even know who will be recruiting them at this time, I will start the recruiting interviews after the spring evaluation period has begun and the college coaches have started calling the players they are interested in recruiting.
While asking the players questions, I have noticed some very interesting trends related to Gene's Page, academics, football camps and recruiting letters.
1) Gene's Page: Of the players that I have talked to, exactly 50% of them have either heard of or read Gene's Page.
2) Academics: A little over 42% of the football players have a 3.0 or better GPA. 60% of the players have already taken their ACT. Of the ones that haven't taken it, most plan on doing so in March or April.
3) Football Camps: 43% of the players have attended an MSU summer football camp while 9% have attended an Ole Miss camp. I have to assume the reason for the difference is the cost differential.
4) Recruiting Letters: While MSU does a much better job getting Mississippi kids to their football camps, Ole Miss does a better job sending recruiting letters to the players. 65% of the kids that I talked to have received letters from Ole Miss while 50% have received letters from MSU.
Well, that wraps up this week's edition of the Monday Morning Bulldog Coffee Break.
Have a great Bulldog week!
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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 email@example.com.