March 1, 2013 8:35:28 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State University men's basketball coach Rick Ray realizes he won't be able to affect a change to the number of players on his roster for the rest of the season.
That's why MSU's first-year head coach has tried to counter the numbers game on the floor by trying to fill the seats in the stands.
In the week before his first home matchup against the University of Mississippi (4 p.m., Fox Sports South), Ray has visited MSU's fraternity and sorority houses in an attempt to get the students to fill a student section at Humphrey Coliseum that was empty last weekend.
"I talked about our guys about being thankful for the situation they're in," Ray said. "I tell them every day I wake up and I'm thankful for the fact I'm the head coach at Mississippi State regardless of the situation. I know we're going to be good and you have to have that same mind-set."
To get the student section filled, even for a rivalry game against Ole Miss, Ray knows his team has to do better on offense. In back-to-back games against Vanderbilt University and the University of Kentucky, MSU failed to make any open perimeter open shots in consecutive blowout losses that dropped it to 7-20 and 2-13 in the Southeastern Conference. MSU lost its 13th game in a row, 85-55 to Kentucky on Wednesday at Rupp Arena.
"We are just not making shots," Ray said. "Our defense was not great. It was not poor, either. We play with a lot of energy and our effort is good. We really compete, but we don't make shots."
The Bulldogs have shot 32.1 percent or less from the field in four of their last six games. On Wednesday, MSU was 7 of 30 from the field in the opening half, including 0-for-8 from 3-point range.
In a 93-75 loss to Ole Miss on Feb. 6 in Oxford, Marshall Henderson, the SEC's leader in scoring, broke out of a 1-for-7 first-half slump and finished with 31 points. He was 7 of 11 from the field in the final 20 minutes. The 18-point victory was Ole Miss' biggest in the series since an 84-61 victory on Feb. 19, 1997, in Oxford.
"I know it doesn't look like it on the stat sheet, but I really think our lack of defense tonight was the fact we forgot about the four players on the court who weren't Marshall Henderson," MSU freshman guard Craig Sword said.
Ole Miss used the blowout to have some fun at MSU's expense in other sports. At halftime, Ole Miss honored its football team and gave the team's seniors and coach Hugh Freeze a chance to show off the Connery Trophy, BBVA Compass Bowl trophy, and Egg Bowl trophy at center court. The MSU marketing department tried to counter those acts this week by handing out free T-shirts at the MSU campus Greek houses in an effort to encourage student participation.
"Maybe we don't have enough Mississippi guys on our team for it to matter to them," Ray said. "I can tell you it matters to me."
Ole Miss (21-7, 10-5) is trying to keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive by winning its fourth game in its last five. The Rebels are 56th in the latest Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), which is one of the tools the NCAA tournament selection committee uses to pick at-large teams for the field.
A victory last weekend against Auburn University helped Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy pass B.L. Graham for the most victories in school history. Kennedy is 146-85 in seven seasons. Graham was 144-168 in 13 seasons.
The Rebels have notched 20 victories for the sixth time in seven seasons under Kennedy. They had seven 20-win campaigns in the 96 seasons prior to Kennedy's arrival in Oxford. He is the fifth coach in SEC history to guide his teams to 20 or more wins in six of his first seven seasons in the league.