December 1, 2013 12:59:50 AM
STARKVILLE -- Rick Ray has diagnosed the problem: The Mississippi State men's basketball team isn't defending teams enough to please its second-year coach this season.
The solution is more difficult to figure out.
"I don't know if we're not capable of guarding or we're not willing to do it," Ray said Wednesday after a 58-56 victory against Jackson State.
After the win against Jackson State, MSU (4-1) moved from last in field goal percentage defense in the Southeastern Conference to 11th, but opponents are still hitting 44.1 percent of their shots. Most of the made field goals have been shots in the lane, as the Bulldogs have had trouble containing dribble penetration, which is something Ray said he would eliminate when he was hired.
"What's the difference between not capable and not willing to do it?" Ray said. "One means you're trying and the other means you're not. It's pretty simple to me."
Ray will try to ascertain the difference at noon today when MSU plays host to Loyola University Chicago (3-4) at Humphrey Coliseum today. The game will be a rematch of the historic "Game of Change" played between the schools in the 1963 NCAA tournament. The Ramblers won 59-51 last year in Chicago. This season, Loyola is averaging 69.1 points per game. All of its losses have come on the road, including games at Tennessee Tech and Tulane.
If MSU is struggling defensively, so is Loyola. The Ramblers have held foes in check in the first half, limiting them to 39 percent (72-for-187) from the field and 31 percent (20-for-65) from 3-point territory. However, opponents have shot 54 percent (98-for-182) from the field and 44 percent (25-for-57) from long range in the second half.
"They're much more athletic than anybody we've faced this year," Loyola sophomore guard Devon Turk said on the school's web site. "We'll have to stop them in transition and not let their athleticism beat us if we'll have any chance."
The historic 1963 NCAA tournament game, which was rated by the NCAA as one of the top 25 defining moments in collegiate sports, will be honored at halftime.
"Our players understand the history and importance of this game," Ray said in a university release. "All these years later, it's special to be a part of this game."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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