January 11, 2013 11:50:48 AM
STARKVILLE -- From a scouting perspective, the beginning of the Southeastern Conference schedule couldn't have broken better for Mississippi State University men's basketball coach Rick Ray.
Ray, who spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach at Clemson University, has been uniquely qualified to evaluate his team's first two league foes: The University of South Carolina and the University of Georgia. MSU 6-7, 1-0 SEC) will put Ray's knowledge to the test for a second time at 12:30 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network) when it plays at Georgia.
Ray received a lot of fan mail from Clemson fans after MSU hung on Wednesday to beat South Carolina 56-54 victory in Humphrey Coliseum. He figures to have a good feeling of what to expect Saturday against Georgia (6-8, 0-1) because Clemson and Georgia would conduct dark scrimmages before the season. The games helped Ray learn a little bit more about Georgia coach Mark Fox, someone Ray has said he respects and considers a friend.
"When you're recruiting, it's like the movie 'The Usual Suspects' (because) you keep seeing the same guys over and over again," Ray said in October. "(Fox) told me relish (the first practice as a head coach) because that's the first time you get to say you're coaching a team."
Ray's biggest concern in his second SEC game is making sure his team can handle another 40 minutes. On Wednesday, three players had to take intravenous fluids from emergency medical trainers after the game. At one point late in the second half, three MSU players were sprawled on the bench battling leg cramps. For a team with nine active players, including seven on scholarship, the Bulldogs' depth was critical in a game in which neither team built a lead of more than four points in the final five minutes.
During the final media timeout Wednesday night, MSU trainer Scotty Johnson worked on left leg cramps of freshman guard Craig Sword and sophomore guard Trivante Bloodman, while team physician Dr. Mark Mabry evaluated the condition of junior guard Jalen Steele.
"We're not going to do anything but mental preparation (on Thursday)," Ray said. "I need to make sure my guys are recharged, and it just wouldn't make any sense at all to put them through a two-hour practice session in this condition."
Sword scored a team high 18 points in the victory. He had 10 points in the final 10 minutes despite being nearly not being able to move after he fell on the court for a second time. Sword needed to have his right leg propped on a chair in the postgame press conference.
"The thing that's hard with Craig is he's the one guy we know can get by if we draw something up for him," Ray said. "Down the stretch he was huge because he continually got the ball into the paint."
Georgia may be more concerned with mental fatigue after a 77-44 loss Wednesday at No. 11 University of Florida. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was Georgia's only player to reach double figures (11 points). The Bulldogs shot 38.9 percent from the field and had 19 turnovers in their first loss since Dec. 15. Florida used its full-court defensive pressure in the opening half to hold Georgia to 35.7-percent shooting and 15 points. Georgia had 14 field goals, while Florida had 12 3-pointers.
Neither MSU nor Georgia is in the RPI Top 200 entering this weekend. Both teams have struggled to make perimeter shots, as MSU is 12th and Georgia is last in the league in scoring offense at less than under 63 points per game.
"That's just the way conference basketball is," Ray said Wednesday. "The way basketball is is low scoring and grinding it out. That's the way we're going to have to do it all the time -- not just this year."