January 8, 2011 10:40:00 PM
Is this all there is?
Mississippi State men''s basketball coach Rick Stansbury warned everyone Dee Bost wasn''t going to be the panacea for what ails his team this season.
And while Bost showed signs of rust in his first official game of the season Saturday against the University of Alabama, no one expected MSU to deliver the performance it did in a 75-57 loss before a crowd of 7,121 at Humphrey Coliseum.
That the Bulldogs looked uninspired and tired and were outworked by an opponent that will be hard-pressed to make the National Invitation Tournament says a lot about the state of MSU men''s basketball this season.
Through transfers and fights in the stands to suspensions, Stansbury has had plenty of off-court matters to keep him busy, so some might not be surprised the Bulldogs looked as apathetic as they did for large stretches Saturday.
You hoped for more from a MSU team that welcomed Bost back from an NCAA-mandated suspension to start the season. You wished Sidney would have shown some -- any -- signs of being the McDonald''s All-American he was coming out of high school. You crossed your fingers that Ravern Johnson would break out of his shooting slump.
Of those three, only Bost''s return offered any glimmer of hope for the Bulldogs (8-7, 0-1 SEC). The senior point guard showed he still can break down defenses, penetrate, and create open looks for his teammates better than anyone on the roster. He also generated offense from his defense with a pair of steals.
But Bost''s shooting touch (5 of 16 from the field, 3 of 9 from the free-throw line) was absent. In time, it has to come for the Bulldogs to have any hope of contending in what figures to be a wide open Southeastern Conference race.
There were positives. Sophomore center Wendell Lewis had a career-high 10 points in 16 minutes. He showed energy and also had five rebounds and two blocked shots. Freshman guard Jalen Steele only had four points, but he hustled and created both of his baskets and provided a nice spark in 10 minutes off the bench.
Everything else was forgettable, and that''s a scary way to rate the effort in your conference opener. Sidney, a 6-foot-10 sophomore center, showed a willingness to play some defense in the first half and to rebound. But he failed to deliver anything on offense. Maybe he was pressing. Maybe he was nervous. Whatever the reason, Sidney had two points (on 1-of-8 shooting), nine rebounds, and five turnovers in 26 minutes. He looked out of shape and disinterested, which is embarrassing for a player who has dreams of getting paid to play a sport he enjoys. The powerful moves he showed (a fallaway jump shot doesn''t count) resulted in turnovers.
The most energy he showed came with 9 minutes, 49 seconds left to go in the first half when in reacting to a referee''s call his words sent a cloud of perspiration from his lips.
Kodi Augustus had 11 points and 11 rebounds in 29 minutes, but his effort was disappointing because he can do so much more. His talent is undeniable, and he is playing with more intensity that previous seasons, but MSU has to find a way to blend his talents with Sidney''s.
Johnson, who entered the game on a 19-of-65 shooting skid (29.2 percent) in his last four games, was 3 of 16 from the field (2 of 10 from 3-point range). Too often Johnson settled for perimeter shots and failed to take the ball to the basket, something Stansbury said the coaches have been begging him to do. As a result, MSU was too one dimensional and without anyone who looked inspired to try to lead the team.
"At halftime, even though we were behind (27-26), as horrible as we had played, I felt like we were in the game and that we couldn''t play any worse" Stansbury said. "I found out in the second half we could."
Stansbury''s catch-phrase this season has been "what it is is what it is." He didn''t make excuses for Bost or Sidney. He didn''t call out any players for their "work" habits. Maybe he needs to. Maybe that will inspire some of them. Maybe he will lose a few more who don''t take to a tough-love approach. But it''s equally dispiriting to see a coach frustrated by the lack of "zip and zap" from his players and unable to snap them out of their "tightness."
Stansbury hasn''t had a losing season since 1999-2000, his second season leading the program, when the Bulldogs went 14-16. This team is capable of more than that if it plays hard. There''s no denying this squad has talent, but the question remains if it has the heart to play as a team and to reach its potential.
Individuals might have a future in the NBA, NBDL, or overseas, but every game leaves a legacy, and one game doesn''t make a season. But the Bulldogs'' effort Saturday left many fans scratching their heads and wondering "Is this all there is?"
It''s MSU''s challenge to prove there''s much more than that.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.