January 21, 2014 9:57:52 AM
STARKVILLE -- The message couldn't be more clear from Mississippi State men's basketball coach Rick Ray to his players: it's on you.
Following an 81-72 overtime victory against Texas A&M on Saturday, Ray has focused on getting his players to build on the win and not to revert to old habits.
"It's all in the minds of our players," Ray said. "Players haven't had the chance to experience success in the past. Now they're starting to experience a little bit of success and it's all about them growing up and maturing."
In Monday's Southeastern Conference media teleconference, Ray said the routine and tone in practice wouldn't change for his team's game at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Auburn at Humphrey Coliseum.
MSU has won back-to-back conference games only once in Ray's first 22 games in the SEC. Beyond beating South Carolina and Georgia to open the 2013 league schedule, MSU (12-5, 2-2 SEC) hasn't been able to string together solid play for multiple games. In its last attempt to earn back-to-back league victories, MSU self-destructed last week in a 80-61 loss at Alabama. After the game, Ray was disappointed with his team's effort at Coleman Coliseum.
Ray said the next day he tracked every possession from the game and discovered his offense forced jump shots with an average of 25 seconds remaining on the shot clock. That lack of aggressiveness led to a breakdown defensively because Alabama had more time with the basketball.
Against Texas A&M, MSU went back to a grind-it-out attack predicated on post touches and dribble penetration. It's a style Ray said the Bulldogs will have to stick to in an attempt to maximize production from sophomores Craig Sword, Gavin Ware, and Fred Thomas.
"Our guys couldn't shoot a 3-pointer until the ball touched the paint, and that's the way we have to play," Ray said. "We're going to play that way until we start shooting better. If they want to shoot threes then get in the gym and shoot it."
Having freshman point guard IJ Ready in the lineup will make it easier to play that way, but Ray said Monday there was "no change" in his physical status. Ready was held out of the game against Texas A&M after suffering a severe head injury at Alabama. Ray confirmed Saturday that Ready suffered a concussion. This is the second time this season Ready has missed time due to an injury. The Little Rock, Ark., native missed four games early in November with a severely strained hamstring. Saturday marked the fifth game he has missed this season because of a injury.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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