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Arkansas game will be special for MSU's Ready

 

Matthew Stevens

 

STARKVILLE -- IJ Ready waited for the Arkansas men's basketball program to offer him a scholarship. 

 

At 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, Ready waited and waited. 

 

The Razorbacks already had multiple point guards on their roster. Questions about Ready's perimeter shooting also contributed to Arkansas not offering a scholarship to the Little Rock, Ark., native. 

 

Passed over by his home state school, Ready signed with Mississippi State thanks in part to the fact that his high school basketball coach is the father of Division I assistant coach Wes Flanigan.  

 

When Flanigan moved from Nebraska, a school Ready was considering, to MSU, Ready knew where he wanted to go. 

 

"A lot of that credit goes to Wes Flanigan and how he was able to maintain that relationship with IJ," MSU coach Rick Ray said. "Once we brought Wes along, it was just a matter of Mississippi State being able to sell itself, and that was the easy part." 

 

Ready admitted Monday not receiving a scholarship offer from Arkansas makes MSU's game at 3 p.m. Saturday (WCBI) against Arkansas at Humphrey Coliseum special because his family will be in Starkville to watch him.  

 

"I hope he doesn't get too fired up, you know," Ray said. "Sometimes that can be a detriment. I just think they have to make sure they go out, execute, and play basketball." 

 

Ready, a three-star prospect in high school, said Monday he immediately looked at the calendar and circled the game versus Arkansas for his personal satisfaction.  

 

"It has a lot of significance for me, but I'm not going to talk about it," Ready said. "It's not about me getting 30 or 40 (points). It's about winning." 

 

That's why Ray will encourage Ready not to play for revenge but to try to play his game to help MSU (13-13, 3-10 Southeastern Conference) snap an eight-game losing streak. Ready isn't used to losing. He led Parkview High School to a 72-15 record in three years, but now he is a part of Ray's rebuilding project.  

 

With a young and inexperienced roster that lacks depth, Ray knows there is a fine line between players doing too much and causing turnovers and being aggressive. Ray said Ready hasn't grasped that concept. 

 

Ready has started the past three games since missing the game against Kentucky with flu-like symptoms. Ready has attempted 54 field goals in the past seven games. He attempted 53 in the previous 12 games.  

 

"We're trying to get IJ to be more aggressive in our offense, and he's done a good job with that lately," Ray said. "I think it'll be a short conversation with IJ not to do too much because we don't want him to not score when the defense allows for that." 

 

Ready leads all SEC freshman in 3-point shooting (42.1 percent) despite being 0-for-1 last week at LSU in a 92-81 loss. 

 

MSU will rely on ready to end a streak that has seen MSU lose 14-straight games in the month of February and 18 out of the last 19 dating back to 2011-12. Ray is 0-14 in February since taking the job in 2012.  

 

"It's hard to measure how much growth you're having when you're not winning," Ray said. "I think our starts have contributed to the fact we haven't taken care of the basketball." 

 

Mired in an eight-game losing streak, MSU hopes the emotion of alumni weekend, which will feature nearly 50 former Bulldogs on campus, will help the team return to the win column. 

 

To do that, MSU will have to control the tempo. Without depth, MSU will need to play a half-court game instead and not allow Arkansas (15-9, 6-7) to use its pressure defense to create a 94-foot game. MSU has also allowed 90-plus points in back-to-back games for the first time since 2009. Opponents have shot 50 percent or better against MSU in four out of the past five games. 

 

"Our only problem on the offensive end is turning the basketball over," Ray said. "Our problem has been not being able to get key stops to keep us in the game." 

 

Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.

 

 

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