February 1, 2013 11:59:03 AM
Matthew Stevens - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- Two of the Southeastern Conference's three first-year head coaches will face off Saturday at Humphrey Coliseum with their teams going in opposite directions.
Mississippi State University men's basketball coach Rick Ray knows which way his team has been heading for the past two weeks. He saw it coming the minute the Bulldogs started distrusting his system. As a result, MSU has lost five games in a row after winning its first two SEC games. It will try to end that streak at 4:30 p.m. Saturday (Fox Sports South) against LSU.
"The two factors were us turning the basketball over and not finishing inside," Ray said Wednesday night after a 55-49 overtime loss to Texas A&M University. "When you have those things happen you are not going to have success."
MSU (7-12, 2-5 SEC) has now lost three-straight games at Humphrey Coliseum, its longest streak since losing three straight (LSU, University of Tennessee, and University of Kentucky) from Jan. 18, 2006 to Feb. 1, 2006. The last time the Bulldogs lost six games in a row also was 2006. The Bulldogs are 2-10 against teams ranked in the RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) top 200. LSU is ranked 123rd .
"It's disheartening because we beat ourselves tonight," Ray said Wednesday. "I'm not taking any credit away from Texas A&M because they caused a lot of those turnovers. We have to take care of the basketball to give ourselves the chance to win games. We should have won this ballgame."
MSU, which is the nation's second-worst team in assist-to-turnover ratio, has struggled to put together any offensive rhythm. It committed 24 turnovers against Texas A&M and attempted 40 attempted field goals, the fewest since having 39 against Vanderbilt University on Feb. 12, 2005. MSU's 24 turnovers were its most at home this season and second most all year (29 in a loss at the University of Arkansas).
"We just made little mistakes toward the end of the game," MSU junior guard Jalen Steele said. "Little things we messed up on cost us the game. We have to practice and keep working and getting better at it."
Unfortunately LSU (11-7, 2-5) isn't hurting for confidence after defeating No. 17 University of Missouri 73-70 on Wednesday in Baton Rouge, La. The victory helped LSU escape the bottom of the SEC standings.
"I think that was really good for us because I think we made those what I like to call 'winning plays'," LSU first-year coach Johnny Jones said. "We were able to sustain their effort last night in not trying to match the intensity, we had to exceed it. I thought we were able to do that last night. It was good to see our guys execute at a high level on both ends of the court."
The victory was the team's biggest since Jones took over for Trent Johnson. On Saturday, Jones will bring an experienced team to Starkville that has split the past four meetings with MSU.
"(Winning road games) is part of our growth, and I think it'd be great for us to have some success on the road," Jones said. "That's part of the challenge. We've played some tough games on the road, being at Kentucky, Georgia, and at Auburn."
While Ray, Jones, and University of South Carolina coach Frank Martin, the league's other first-year coach, will be judged on how quickly they transform their programs, victories against each other would help. All three teams are part of a five-way tie for the bottom of the league at 2-5.
"I think it's about first and foremost showing our guys the standings in the SEC," Ray said. "We have to used examples of what's going on in college basketball and where we are in the SEC to make our guys feel good about, 'Hey, we can still go out and do some things the rest of the season'."