Big on the boards

After four losses in a row, the Mississippi State Bulldogs will be looking to rebound – literally – Wednesday night against Tennessee. Crashing the boards undoubtedly represents MSU's best hope of beating the 19th-ranked Vols.

How strong is Mississippi State on the backboards? On Jan. 18 the Bulldogs won the rebound war 40-33 against an LSU team that had outrebounded Tennessee 43-25 four days earlier.

"They're so athletic," UT coach Bruce Pearl says of the Bulldogs. "They made LSU at times look like the least athletic team out there when they played against them. They outrebounded a team that outrebounded us by 18."

MSU (11-7 overall, 1-4 SEC) boasts two of the SEC's top seven rebounders. Based on league games only, 6-4, 225-pound freshman Jamont Gordon ranks third at 8.8 per game and 6-8, 240-pound sophomore Charles Rhodes is seventh at 7.6 per outing. Both are among the SEC's top four defensive rebounders, as well.

Counting non-conference games, the Bulldogs rate second among the 12 SEC teams in rebound margin at plus 5.0, while the Vols rank dead last at minus 3.9. Seven-footer Wesley Morgan (6.8), Gordon and Rhodes (6.4 each) give MSU three guys averaging more rebounds per game than Tennessee leader Dane Bradshaw (6.3).

"They've got three rebounders in the top 13 in the conference – Gordon, Rhodes and Morgan," Pearl noted. "Those three kids are all athletic and they're all big and strong at their positions. This is a team that also holds people to 39-percent field goal shooting, so you're talking about one of the SEC's best defensive teams."

So why are the Bulldogs such excellent rebounders and defenders?

"They're incredibly athletic," Pearl said. "They're strong. They're bouncy. They're thick."

On a positive note, Tennessee (12-3 overall, 3-1 SEC) is coming off one of its best rebounding efforts of the season. After being outrebounded by five in the first half last Saturday against Florida, the Vols won the boards by 10 in the second half. Interestingly enough, the leading rebounder was reserve Andre Patterson (10). Guard JaJuan Smith, who chipped in 6 boards, also produced off the bench.

"JaJuan Smith and Andre Patterson made a huge difference in that regard," Pearl said. "Andre showed a dimension there that could really help us. I would say I've got to find a way to play him some more because of the way he rebounded."

The coach added that Smith contributed "two big offensive rebound baskets" in the second half and noted that "offense is hard to come by late in games."

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