December 14, 2012 9:56:41 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Rick Ray has done everything to embrace the significance of his team's next game.
From leading the charge this summer to scheduling the matchup to this week showing film of the historic 1963 NCAA tournament game against Loyola University of Chicago, the Mississippi State University men's basketball coach won't rest until his team understands why this game holds a place in school history.
"It's just a unique experience to go through, and I want to make sure we use it as a learning experience and their knowledge of basketball," Ray said.
Ray has been showing his players clips from "One Night in March", a documentary about MSU's game against Loyola on March 15, 1963, when an all-white MSU team defied the attempts of segregationist governor Ross Barnett to prevent it from leaving the state to play a team with black players. The state of Mississippi filed an injunction designed to keep MSU in the state, but the team snuck out in the middle of the night and the went on to lose to the eventual national champions in East Lansing, Mich.
"I can't wait to play this week and meet old players from back then that have already played and get to learn something," MSU senior center Wendell Lewis said.
Ray will have players from MSU's 1963 team speak with the team today before they head to Chicago to play Loyola. The game, which will be at 7 p.m. Saturday, will be played a few months after former MSU sports reporter Kyle Veazey wrote a book about how men's basketball coach Babe McCarthy defied a state court order and took his team to Michigan for the 1963 NCAA tournament. The book titled "Champions for Change: How the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Their Bold Coach Defied Segregation." The History Press published the book in October, and Veazey has done several book signings in the state, including two in Starkville.
"I have always been fascinated with the history of Mississippi just because it is so complex and, quite frankly, not all of it is worth being proud of, but if we don't write about it or talk about it, we haven't done much of anything about that," Veazey said in an exclusive interview with The Dispatch in October. "(I spoke with) William Winter, the former Governor of Mississippi, who I think is Mississippi's elder statesman now for the book, and I asked him 'Now be honest with me, did this really matter?' He didn't let me finish my question and said 'absolutely it mattered.' "
The game will be MSU's next chance to earn its first road victory of the season. Lewis, who is averaging 8.1 points and 4.9 rebounds a game, hopes MSU (3-5) can build off the momentum of a 53-42 victory against the University of Texas at San Antonio on Dec. 4 at Humphrey Coliseum. Lewis had a career-high 20 points in the victory, but school officials announced Thursday night he didn't practice due to a sore right patella suffered this week. Lewis was scheduled for an MRI scan to determine if he would travel with the team.
Loyola (6-3) has lost all of its games on the road, including two against Bowl Championship Series schools (the University of South Florida and Michigan State University). Ramblers coach Porter Moser, who Ray met on the recruiting trail when they he was an assistant coach at Indiana State University and Moser was at Illinois State University, which are both in the Missouri Valley Conference, has a defense that allows 55 points per game and opponents to shoot 38 percent (81 for 211) from the field and 34 percent (23 for 68) from 3-point range in its last five games.
"I want our guys to start experiencing success with things they haven't done yet," Ray said. "The offense has to improve to give us a chance to win significant ballgames."