February 8, 2011 7:56:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- For all the naysayers, Rick Stansbury wants you to look at his track record.
The Mississippi State men''s basketball coach wants those who question the lack of discipline in the program to look past Ravern Johnson''s combined suspensions and Renardo Sidney''s fight with Elgin Bailey.
But it''s impossible to mention one without the other in what has been a season filled with setbacks, defections, and drama.
"It''s been different," senior guard Riley Benock said. "I think it''s pretty safe to say I''ve never been around anything quite like this year. In the past, we''ve had little ups and downs, but never to this level. I don''t know if it''s a way of widowing down until you get the core."
Stansbury''s handling of Renardo Sidney after his fight with Bailey in Hawaii and his conduct on Twitter has been criticized by national columnists and analysts.
Stansbury has suspended Sidney twice by this season, but the sophomore forward escaped punishment for re-Tweeting Ravern Johnson''s critical post following the team''s game at the University of Alabama. Johnson was suspended for the game against LSU on Saturday. Stansbury also banned team members from having Twitter accounts. On Monday, Stansbury announced Johnson has been suspended indefinitely.
Sidney had several ill-tempered exchanges with fans following his suspension in Hawaii, and even clapped at the fan-base for what he thought was a lack of support after the Alabama loss.
Should Sidney, who''s trying to win over critics who laud his ability but question his dedication and maturity, have been suspended for essentially posting the same message to his Twitter account?
Should he have a shorter margin for error because of his checkered history?
Should Ravern Johnson be cut loose instead of receiving an indefinite suspension for missing two practices and violating the school''s class attendance policy for the second time this season?
Those are just several instances this season where Stansbury has been forced to make a difficult disciplinary decision.
Whether he has handled them all in the right way is up for debate, but to say his program lacks discipline is unfair, Stansbury said.
"Here''s the best way I''ll say about that: Twelve years, what have we had? We ain''t had no issues," Stansbury said. "You''re talking about a lack of discipline? You have a fight in the stands we had to handle, and we had this (Johnson''s suspension). Have things been easy? Do I wish any of those things never happened? Yes.
"When they do happen, you got to handle them. That''s where it is, and that''s the way it''s always gonna be. When you don''t do right, there''s gonna be accountability. That''s what our program''s won games on, and won championships on."
Bost''s Achilles'' an issue
Buried under the latest piece of negativity is MSU''s ailing captain, Dee Bost.
The junior''s strained Achilles'' tendon nearly forced him to miss the team''s game at LSU, but he fought through the injury and played 36 minutes.
Though he struggled shooting and had five turnovers, he made the defensive stop against Andre Stringer on LSU''s last possession of the game.
The moment typified Bost''s contribution to the team since returning from suspension Jan. 8.
Bost willed MSU to a win at the University of Mississippi after an embarrassing loss to Alabama in his home debut. He then led MSU''s scoring charge in its win against Florida.
Bost took a Festus Ezeli elbow to the face in MSU''s loss to Vanderbilt and had to have his two front teeth glued back together.
Now, he''s struggling to plant and to run without soreness.
"(I have to) basically just tough it out and keep playing," Bost said.
Bost''s attitude and desire to navigate an MSU turnaround has impressed his teammates and Stansbury.
Said Stansbury, "I think Dee wants everybody on the same page and to be about the team. Let''s fight as a team. Let''s not be about ourselves. Be about the team."
Stansbury said the team will "be smart" monitoring Bost''s repetitions in practice but didn''t give an indication of how long he could be limited in training.
"Usually, if he can walk he''s gonna play," Benock said. "It''s never really a question with Dee with his competitiveness or being able to make a game."
A hobbled Bost could be a bigger concern than Ravern Johnson''s suspension. His strained Achilles'' could have an effect similar to his lack of stamina in his first game back against Alabama. He shot 5 of 16 from the field and missed six free throws in that game, which resembled his 2-of-11 performance against LSU.
"He''s resilient, he''s tough," said Arkansas coach John Pelphrey, whose team visits Starkville on Wednesday. "He''s not afraid to take big shots, but he''s also a good distributor. He''s the catalyst. I don''t think you''re ever gonna stop Dee Bost, or ever shut him out. You just try to hang in there."
A Benock awakening on horizon?
Stansbury said some of his seniors "get it."
The realization that college and basketball are coming to an end brings out an extra dimension or stronger commitment in at least two of Stansbury''s senior starters.
Riley Benock and Kodi Augustus have been those players. They''ve started every game this season and have been the type of cerebral players Stansbury has needed in the wake of the team''s off-court turbulence.
Early in his junior season, Augustus was suspended for two games following postgame comments critical of Stansbury following the team''s season-opening loss to Rider. He''s averaging career highs in points (12) and rebounds (7.5) this season.
Stansbury hopes Benock''s performance against LSU (12 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and two steals) is a sign he is warming up for the final stretch.
With Johnson suspended indefinitely, the Bulldogs need it to happen.
"He''s a guy that makes the right decisions," Stansbury said. "We need him to be aggressive."
Benock said he had grown frustrated in his inability to knock down shots in the two games prior to Saturday, when he went scoreless against Florida and had three points at Alabama. He entered the game against LSU knowing he had to be aggressive on both ends of the court to help compensate for Johnson being out of the lineup.
"I hit my first shot, which always helps. Any shooter will tell you that," Benock said. "Just knowing if I did miss a shot, I had to keep shooting, especially in a game like that when we were without one of our leading scorers."
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