December 2, 2017 4:54:59 PM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State's 6-0 start to its men's basketball season has been missing a few things. It's missed a date with a team hailing from a conference with more than one team in last season's NCAA Tournament; it lacks a team ranked in the top 120 nationally according to Ken Pomeroy's advanced college basketball metrics.
That all changes Sunday night.
Dayton (3-3) comes to Humphrey Coliseum 7 p.m. Sunday (SEC Network) to challenge MSU and its unbeaten record in a way MSU has not been challenged before given only two of the six wins have been by single digits.
In looking for a formula for the win, MSU coach Ben Howland looked at box score from Thursday's win over North Dakota State: NDSU's 38.6 shooting percentage and 28.6 percent from 3-point range.
"That's why we've been winning, it's our defense," Howland said. "Our guys are doing a great job of focusing and taking information on the personnel to be able to take away their strengths."
Playing strong defense against the Flyers requires a similar approach to stopping MSU: limiting everything inside the 3-point line. Much like MSU, Dayton has struggled from 3-point range (33.3 percent, 216th in the nation), but is shooting 54.4 percent on 2-point attempts, which ranks 66th in the nation. Dayton's ball movement has been among the best in the nation, too, based on 61.2 percent of its made field goal being assisted (37th in the nation).
MSU has a certain level of familiarity with Dayton: its coach, Anthony Grant, coached at Alabama from 2009-2015, taking the Crimson Tide to one NCAA Tournament in that time. Howland replaced Rick Ray after Grant was fired, thus Howland and Grant did not coach against each other as members of the Southeastern Conference.
MSU could get a boost in the return of sophomore guard Lamar Peters, who Howland said will be back after missing three games due to an undisclosed violation of team rules. In his three games, Peters has averaged 12.3 points and 4.7 assists per game with eight steals and three blocks. Starkville native Tyson Carter has produced at a high clip in his absence, most recently scoring a career high 35 points and doubling as the first Bulldog to do so since 1995.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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