February 26, 2014 12:08:46 PM
STARKVILLE -- Neither head coach in tonight's game at Humphrey Coliseum is interested in what a win would mean for his team.
Mississippi State's Rick Ray and Tennessee's Cuonzo Martin are too busy trying to get the victory.
Ray, who is 0-15 in February, said Monday he's not interested in his team playing the spoiler role against opponents like Tennessee that are trying to secure NCAA tournament berths.
"I'm much more interested in trying make sure my basketball team is improving," Ray said.
MSU (13-14, 3-11 Southeastern Conference) will try to take another step forward and snap a nine-game SEC losing streak at 7 tonight when it plays host to Tennessee (16-11, 7-7). The Bulldogs' losing skid is tied for the sixth-longest in school history. A 73-69 loss to Arkansas on Saturday represented the smallest margin of defeat in the stretch, but Ray couldn't find several positives in the loss. The fifth-straight loss at home put MSU below the .500 mark for the first time this season.
Ray and Martin were assistants from 2007-08 on head coach Matt Painter's staff at Purdue. They have remained close friends working in the same conference.
While Ray isn't interested in MSU playing spoiler, Martin isn't interested in talking about his job security. Martin was asked this week if he's spoken to Tennessee Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart about if he will be back next season regardless of the Volunteers' postseason fate.
"I talk to Dave all the time," Martin said during his weekly media luncheon. "The thing we talk about (is) just each particular game. And Dave does a good job, win or lose, texting or calling, just about the game. But other than that, not at all. We just talk about basketball."
Martin's buyout is $1.56 million if Tennessee decides to part ways with him. In the past decade, Tennessee has paid more than $15 million in buyouts to athletics department personnel. With four games left before the SEC tournament in Atlanta, though, Tennessee is in a five-way tie for fourth in the SEC standings with, Ole Miss, LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M.
"Our goal doesn't change as far as making the NCAA tournament," Martin said. "I think there's some games we had an opportunity to win we came up short in, but that goal doesn't change."
Tennessee lost to Texas A&M 68-65 in overtime Saturday to cement its status as a team hanging on to the NCAA tournament bubble. The Volunteers fell to one of the last two teams in the 68-team field Monday, according to ESPN bracket projection analyst Joe Lunardi.
"Been doing it for years," Martin said. "As a ballplayer and as a coach, I've been consumed with what I need to do for years. If you put the work in, everything else will take care of itself. Again, don't have that kind of time and energy. Negative (talk), I don't consume myself with it."
MSU will look for its second-straight victory against Tennessee at home and sixth out of the last 11 at Humphrey Coliseum against the Volunteers.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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