February 4, 2013 12:02:56 PM
STARKVILLE - The difference in the collapse by the Mississippi State University men's basketball program last year that led to Rick Stansbury no longer being the coach and the one happening now is simple for Bulldogs new coach Rick Ray.
"I don't worry about losing (the players mentally) because we've got good kids," Ray said following a 69-68 loss to Louisiana State University Saturday.
The defeat marked only the third time in the last 25 years the Bulldogs (7-13, 2-6 in Southeastern Conference) have lost six games in a row. MSU is now 2-11 against teams that are in the Top 200 of the ratings percentage index and were four days removed from dropping a 12-point halftime advantage to eventually lose that contest in overtime to Texas A&M University.
The difference in the rebuilding job for Ray, who is currently working with seven scholarship players and a consistent eight-man rotation, is the character he believes he has in the locker room and intends to go forward with as the foundation of his program.
"When you've got good kids you are not going to lose them," Ray said. "Playing hard, winning and trying to get better is important to them. Now if I had bad kids on the team I would be worried about that. I'm not worried about that."
While Ray has been consistent with not wanting to talk about the Stansbury era at MSU "because I wasn't here", the "bad kids" he may be referring to could be interpreted as some of the defections that left the program before Ray got a chance to coach his first game in Starkville. These defections from the MSU program included forward Arnett Moultrie (left MSU as a junior and was selected in the the first round of NBA draft), center Renardo Sidney (left MSU as a junior and went undrafted in the 2012 NBA draft) and forward Rodney Hood (transferred from MSU to Duke University this past summer).
"Maybe I'm the only one who thinks we should still be winning ballgames with seven scholarship guys," Ray said. "That's just the way I am. I believe if we go out and do things the right way we are always going to give ourselves a chance to win."
Last season, Moultrie answered a question surrounding his opinion as to whether MSU could get out of its four-game losing streak in 2011-12 with the simple "no, probably not" response that left fans, coaches and everyone around Humphrey Coliseum noticeably upset - (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMNWeIR_VOY#t=6m50s)
"That's the most disappointing thing - knowing we're capable of much more than what we're showing right now," Moultrie said last February. "A five game losing streak is unprecedented at any level of basketball especially with all this talent."
In a similar situation, MSU freshman center Gavin Ware - a early signee by Stansbury's staff - was given every opportunity to make similar comments to Moultrie after Saturday's loss to the Tigers and refused to acknowledge any surrender in this version of the MSU program. Ware has scored double figures in each of the last four games without much interior help around him with the Bulldogs depth issues at forward since senior Wendell Lewis was out for the season with a leg injury.
"We would've had the game if we make our free throws," Ware said.
MSU was 13 of 27 from the foul line Saturday night and missed 10 of its final 13 attempts down the stretch to allow for a LSU comeback at the end by sophomore guard Anthony Hickey.
"That's just one more thing we have to work on in practice," Ware said. "That's unacceptable. We can't throw the game away because we missed free throws."
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
2. Good times roll for Market Street music ENTERTAINMENT
5. W music students present An Evening of Classics ENTERTAINMENT