Archive for February, 2009

Hoops: Auburn 76, MSU 58

February 28, 2009

Mississippi State’s slide continues. It’s now lost three straight and five of its last six. The overriding theme of the postgame can be summed up with this quote from MSU coach Rick Stansbury: “Auburn was a much better basketball team than us. They played like it meant more to them than it did us.” Indeed, Auburn (19-10, 8-6 SEC) now holds sole possession of second place in the SEC Western Division behind overall SEC champ LSU, while State (17-12, 7-7) drops to third.

Four Tigers scored in double digits, led by Frankie Sullivan‘s 14 points. Tay Waller, who had 32 last time these teams met, was held to 7. For State, Jarvis Varnado scored 14, Dee Bost and Phil Turner had 12 each, and Barry Stewart scored 11.

Auburn led by 17 points at halftime and by as many as 20 in the second half. And the stat of the day: Auburn’s bench outscored MSU’s bench 36-0. Some quotes from various coaches and players, starting with Stansbury:

• On Auburn coach Jeff Lebo: “Jeff did a much better job getting his team prepared to play this game than I did getting our team prepared to play this game. They played that way. Auburn played with more passion, more toughness, more togetherness.”

• On bench play: “I have no answer for that. They got 36 from their bench. I’ve just got no answer why. The biggest thing was our passion and our energy, which would lead to more baskets everywhere.”

• On the effort: “We’ve got to find a way to keep playing with some energy and toughness. We’ve got no margin for error. … When you don’t play hard, you’ve got no chance.”

Now, Varnado:

• “We had a good week of practice, I think everybody was pumped and ready to go for this game, but we just started off lackadaisical, and it carried over to the second half.”

• On looking ahead: “I know some of them are probably thinking the season’s over with, but we’ve got two more games left, and then we’ve got the SEC Tournament. And who knows. Look what happened to Georgia last year.”

• “I feel like we gave up toward the end. ”

Turner:

• On the shooting woes: “I’m never too much at a loss for words, but I don’t know what to say, what to tell you.”

• On forging ahead: “The people on the inside, the team and the coaches, we’re the only people that believe we can win anyway. Everybody else just hopes we can win.”

Stewart:

• “As a whole, we came out flat. I don’t understand why. I’ve got no answer for that. At this point in the season, you’ve to have some urgency about you.”

From Auburn, Lebo:

• On Brendon Knox (10 points) vs. Varnado: “The one thing with Varnado as a shot-blocker, youve got to go right at him. Brendon’s awkward, when he gets it in there, I think that helped him more than anything. When he got it against Varnado, he didn’t know where it was coming from. And he was aggressive when he went at him.”

• On winning six of its last seven: “You’ve played your way into a situation where now every game’s meaningful.”

Auburn at MSU: Official Game Thread

February 28, 2009

We are live at Humphrey Coliseum. Still plenty of time for you to read my game advance from today’s Daily Journal. Here are the basics:

TV: Fox Sports South (where available). Live video streaming at ESPN360.com.
XM: Channel 200.
Series: Auburn leads 68-62.
Last meeting: Auburn, 91-76 on Feb. 14 in Auburn.
Coaches: Auburn – Jeff Lebo (190-137, 11th year; 75-74, fifth year at Auburn); MSU – Rick Stansbury (225-126, 11th year).
Notes: State has beaten Auburn eight straight times at Humphrey Coliseum. … MSU’s Ravern Johnson is first in the SEC in 3-point percentage (43.2). Auburn’s Tay Waller is fourth (36.6). … Auburn’s Korvotney Barber leads the SEC with 3.6 offensive rebounds per game. … MSU leads the league with 27.1 defensive rebounds per game.

Probable starters
Auburn (18-10, 7-6 SEC)

F – Korvotney Barber    6-7    Sr.    12.9 ppg
G – DeWayne Reed    6-1    Jr.    13.4 ppg
G – Rasheem Barrett    6-5    Sr.    9.0 ppg
G – Quantez Robertson    6-3    Sr.    6.0 ppg
G – Tay Waller    6-2    Jr.    12.8 ppg
Top reserves: F Lucas Hargrove, G Frankie Sullivan, F Brendon Knox.

Mississippi State (17-11, 7-6 SEC)
C – Jarvis Varnado    6-9    Jr.    13.1 ppg
G – Ravern Johnson    6-7    So.    12.6 ppg
G – Dee Bost    6-2    Fr.    11.5 ppg
G – Barry Stewart    6-3    Jr.    11.9 ppg
G – Phil Turner    6-3    So.    8.6 ppg
Top reserves: F Elgin Bailey, G Riley Benock, F Romero Osby.

Baseball Rained Out

February 27, 2009

Spokesman Joe Dier just informed us that today’s scheduled baseball game between Mississippi State and Nicholls State has been postponed due to rain. A doubleheader for tomorrow is set for a noon start. So that nixes my idea of covering both baseball and hoops. Gates will open at 10:30 a.m., and there’ll be 20 minutes between game.

To review, Ricky Bowen will start Game 1, Nick Routt in Game 2. Sunday’s starter is TBD, and the game begins at 1:30 p.m.

Blog Bag Answers: ‘Definite Maybe’

February 27, 2009

Wow, y’all used all your ammo in January and early February, I guess. Only four questions this week, but I’ve got four pretty good answers for you. Here you go.

Q: Any word on when merchandise with the new logo will be available? Also, will we will wearing the new helmets/jersey for the spring game?
A: It’s already available in some stores. As for the new unis and helmets in the spring game, AD Greg Byrne told me today, and I quote: “Definite maybe.”

Q: Basketball season thus far: exceeded expectations or major letdown? And to improve , what do we need to recruit?
A: If you go by preseason predictions, which had MSU finishing fourth in the Western Division, you’d obviously have to say the Bulldogs have exceeded expectations. And I’d agree. A freshman point guard, little (healthy) post experience besides Jarvis Varnado, no on-floor senior leadership – I think it’s amazing that MSU has been in so many of the games it’s lost, not to mention the ones it’s won. As for what needs to be recruited, see the next question.

Q: Considering that we are a little thin with the big men, does coach Rick Stansbury plan on signing any with this recruiting class or in the near future?
A: Shaunessy Smith, though not a big man, is a big signing for MSU. As for low-post guys, I have to defer to GenesPage.com, the school’s Scout.com site, which lists only one player who kind of fits in that category – Kendrick Washington, a 6-foot-6, 268-pound senior from Shreveport.

Q: There have been a few football players from around the country who have come out and said that they will be transferring, and I was just wondering if you knew if any of them were considering coming to play for us?
A: Don’t count on it. Quarterback Robert Marve (Miami) is expected to make a decision in April among Oklahoma State, South Florida, Texas Tech and UCLA. Florida’s a possibility, too, but probably as a walk-on. Patrick Witt (Nebraska), like Marve a backup QB, is not mobile and therefore not a great fit for Dan Mullen’s spread offense. I’m not sure who else of note is transferring, so please enlighten me.

On the Links: One Up, One Down

February 27, 2009

While the Mississippi State men’s NCAA tournament hopes are fading fast, the Lady Bulldogs are well on their way to earning a berth. They won their 20th game of the season last night, fighting off a scrappy South Carolina squad, 58-41, at Humphrey Coliseum. One game – at Alabama on Sunday – remains for MSU (20-8, 7-6 SEC) before the SEC Tournament in North Little Rock, Ark. (March 5-8).

As for the men, not looking good. The Bulldogs (17-11, 7-6 SEC) have lost four of their last five, and that can be blamed largely on youthful inconsistency. Up next is a 5 p.m. home game with Auburn on Saturday; the Tigers beat State 91-76 on Valentine’s Day. More on that game in tomorrow’s paper. Also, in case you didn’t see it in Wednesday’s Journal, the Ole Miss game next Saturday is set for 4 p.m. No television.

On the baseball front, no word yet on whether today’s game against Nicholls State (4 p.m.) has been postponed. I’ll let you know if it is.

Spring Game on TV

February 26, 2009

AD Greg Byrne and football coach Dan Mullen have talked about wanting to pack out Davis Wade Stadium for the Maroon-White Game on April 18. For those who can’t make it, though, just flip on the TV. That’s right, the spring game will be broadcast live on CSS (that stands for Comcast Sports Southeast).

In a department press release, Mullen said, “This is another great opportunity for people around the region to see what Mississippi State is all about. A chance for us to put on display the passion that not only our team will play with but also that our fans and students have for this university.”

Kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m.

On the Links: Hoops and Baseball

February 26, 2009

Mississippi State is officially in a slide. The Bulldogs fell to Tennessee, 81-76, last night. It was their third straight loss and fourth in five games. Scotty Hopson scored a game-high 21 points (on 7-of-11 shooting) to lead the Volunteers (17-10, 8-5 SEC). MSU (17-11, 7-6) never led in the second half. Barry Stewart was solid with 20 points and four assists, and Ravern Johnson scored 18. Point guard Dee Bost offset his 17 points and five assists with six turnovers (State had 17 turnovers to UT’s 10). Jarvis Varnado struggled, getting just eight points, six boards and three blocks. The Bulldogs shot pretty well – 47.2 percent from the field, 36.7 from 3-point range – but the defense was not there. State has given up 80-plus points in four of its last five games.

Big picture, this means MSU is losing its grip on second place in the West and the first-round bye in the SEC Tournament that comes with that. With Auburn beating Ole Miss, the Bulldogs and Tigers are now tied for second. They meet Saturday in Starkville (Auburn won the first meeting). I’ll have more on the Bulldogs in tomorrow’s Journal.

I’ll also have something on the Lady Bulldogs, as I’m covering their game tonight against South Carolina. Final home game of the year.

To the baseball diamond, MSU pulled out a 4-3 win over Mississippi Valley State yesterday. Brent Brownlee‘s pinch-hit double in the eighth inning broke a 3-3 tie. Reliever Justin Bussey (1-0) earned the win with 1 1/3 innings of work. True freshman David Hayes, who learned about four hours before game time he would start, gave up a run on two hits in 1 2/3 innings. Greg Houston and Lee Swindle also pitched for MSU.

MSU at Tennessee: Unofficial Game Thread

February 25, 2009

I might not be in Knoxville, but I figured y’all would want a place to discuss the game as it happened. So here it is, and here are the basics:

TV: Raycom.
XM: Channel 199. Live video streaming at ESPN360.com.
Series: Tennessee leads 73-38.
Last year: Tennessee, 76-71 in Starkville.
Coaches: MSU – Rick Stansbury (225-125, 11th year); Tennessee – Bruce Pearl (410-118, 17th year; 93-34, fourth year at Tennessee).
Notes: MSU is 4-0 against Eastern Division opponents this year. … State C Jarvis Varnado has 358 career blocks, two shy of tying Auburn’s Kyle Davis for second-most in SEC history. … UT’s J.P. Prince leads the SEC with a 2.8 assist/turnover ratio in league games. MSU’s Dee Bost is third (1.8).

Probable starters
Mississippi State (17-10, 7-5 SEC)

C – Jarvis Varnado    6-9    Jr.    13.3 ppg
G – Phil Turner    6-3    So.    8.6 ppg
G – Dee Bost    6-2    Fr.    11.3 ppg
G – Barry Stewart    6-3    Jr.    11.6
G – Ravern Johnson    6-7    So.    12.4 ppg
Top reserves: F Elgin Bailey, G Riley Benock, G Twany Beckham.

Tennessee (16-10, 7-5 SEC)
F – Tyler Smith    6-7    Jr.    17.2 ppg
C – Wayne Chism    6-9    Jr.    13.1 ppg
G – Josh Tabb    6-4    Jr.    3.2 ppg
G – J.P. Prince    6-7    Jr.    9.7 ppg
G – Scotty Hopson    6-7    Fr.    9.1 ppg
Top reserves: G Bobby Maze, F Brian Williams, G/F Cameron Tatum

Jim Phelan: SEC Not So Weak

February 25, 2009

Oops, let me pick up that name I just dropped. OK, anyway, I just got off the phone with Jim Phelan, the guy who won 830 games in a 49-year coaching career, all at Mount St. Mary’s. We’re close personal friends. Well, not really, but I was speaking with him for a story I’m working on for later in the week. The conversation drifted toward the SEC, a conference Phelan tracks closely. He follows all conferences closely, actually.

The SEC has been derided by pundits this season as weak, and it ranks sixth among conferences in RPI, according to RealTimeRPI.com. For what it’s worth, Phelan is calling BS on that notion. “I don’t think it’s as weak as people think, especially if you have to play at their place,” he said. He’s particularly impressed with Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks and Western Division leader LSU. He watched both Meeks’ 54-point outburst a few weeks ago and LSU’s 81-75 win over Florida last night. Of the No. 18-ranked Tigers, he said, “They make every shot they look at. They’re not, but it seems like it.”

More from Phelan when the aforementioned story runs.

Varnado Dissed, Twice Over

February 25, 2009

I ran across a Seth Davis article on SI.com today that mentioned Mississippi State center Jarvis Varnado, and I wondered why my Google alert hadn’t caught it. Ah, yes, because his named was misspelled “Varnardo.” Dis No. 1. Then, an anonymous NBA scout was quoted thusly about “Varnardo’s” pro prospects: “I’m not a huge fan. He still gets killed inside. He’s great on the weak side, but he can’t guard on the ball because he gets pushed around too much. Somebody will probably take him in the second round…” Dis No. 2.

I’m no expert evaluator of basketball talent, so I won’t offer any sort of opinion. I don’t expect Varnado will come out this year anyway, so he’s got another year to impress the skeptics.

On a personal note, I feel rather awkward using the term “dis.” Not a word journalists use often.

Varnado, Chism Renew Rivalry

February 25, 2009

Mississippi State travels to Knoxville today to take on Tennessee (8 p.m., Raycom), and the Bulldogs are trying to snap a skid that’s seen them lose three of their last four games. Tennessee’s lost two straight, so both teams are asking questions of themselves concerning what might be wrong. For MSU, it’s pretty simple: The shots aren’t falling. It’s not an effort problem, and as I write in today’s advance, it’s not a freshmen problem either. Also in the story, I explore the source of UT’s recent struggles.

What I didn’t write about in the paper, but will here, is the key matchup down low. MSU’s Jarvis Varnado and Tennessee’s Wayne Chism are both 6-foot-9 juniors who have been big for their respective teams. Their numbers are quite similar: Varnado’s averaging 13.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, to Chism’s 13.1 and 8.4 (Varnado has the edge in blocks, of course – 5.0 to 0.9). That’s not all they have in common.

Varnado and Chism both played their high school and AAU ball in Tennessee. They matched up a few times then, and of course they matched up last year – Varnado had five points and four boards, while Chism got seven and six. Each will play much larger roles tonight. They’re looking forward to it.

“He and I had some battles in high school,” Varnado said. “It’s going to be real good playing against him again. It’s always fun.”

Chism had high praise for Varnado, noting his improvement: “He became a different player from high school and AAU, so he’s become a better player; so have I. It’s going to be a good matchup in there. I’ve just got to stay focused and be physical as I’m used to and don’t let nothing bother me. Because it’s going to be a battle down there. He’s going to send everything to the next row.”

Chism’s strategy – the whole team’s strategy, the only strategy that’s been somewhat effective against Varnado – is to go right after him, again and again. “That’s about showing you’ve got heart,” Chism said. “Keep going in there, if you get it (blocked), go back again.” After going through a tough stretch earlier, Varnado is averaging 6.0 blocks per game over his last six outings. Not to mention he’s averaging 18.8 points over the last four games.

And one more note: I won’t be making the trip. The current financial climate has a lot to do with that. It’s going to pain me greatly to not be there, but the AP will cover for us, and I’ll watch it on TV and have a thorough follow-up for Friday’s paper.

Baseball: Instant Reaction

February 24, 2009

Mississippi State improved to 4-1 with a 5-1 victory over a tough South Alabama squad earlier today. Forrest Moore, a sophomore left-hander, got the start and improved to 2-0, giving up one run on five hits in six innings. He struck out six, walked two and threw 90 pitches. Pretty dang efficient.

This was Moore’s first start. He tossed three scoreless innings of relief in Friday’s season-opening win over Northern Illinois. And senior righty Chad Crosswhite had another solid relief outing tonight, allowing one hit in three innings. In two appearances, he has recorded five scoreless frames.

I blogged earlier today about freshman Nick Routt making a strong case for himself as a weekend starter. Moore certainly has as well, and while Crosswhite could see some starts, I think he’ll settle into the closer’s role.

MSU returns to action at Dudy Noble Field tomorrow at 4 p.m. against Mississippi Valley State.

Baseball: Routt Weekend Material

February 24, 2009

Mississippi State baseball coach John Cohen learned at least one big thing from the Bulldogs’ opening weekend: True freshman Nick Routt looks like a weekend starter.

Routt, a 6-foot-3 lefty from Silver Spring, Md., hurled eight strong innings Saturday in a 7-1 win over North Florida. He yielded one run on seven hits, striking out four and walking one. He easily had the longest outing of any of the four starters on the weekend.

“It might be too soon to say, but I think Nick Routt’s a guy that deserves serious consideration on the weekends,” Cohen said Monday.

As for the other pitchers, it was a mixed bag. Twelve guys took the hill over the four games, and the other three besides Routt who started – Ricky Bowen, Devin Jones and Tyler Whitney – allowed a combined eight runs (two earned) to go with nine walks and 16 strikeouts. Cohen’s thoughts on each:

• Bowen: “We need him to get back to where he was in the fall. He was dominant this fall.”

• Jones: “He really lost his delivery later on in the course of that game.”

• Whitney: “I think Tyler Whitney went out there and did exactly what we wanted him to, he gave us four or five (4 2/3) really strong innings.”

As for relievers, Cohen was especially pleased with Justin Bussey, Chad Crosswhite and Forrest Moore.

After we talked pitching, Cohen broke out some game video and put it on the big flat-screen TV that hangs in the corner of his office. He walked me through two at-bats that stood out to him, both from the Sunday North Florida game. The first was a single by right-handed slugger Connor Powers, who went after a breaking down and out of the strike zone and jerked it into left-center field. The other hit was Jet Butler‘s walk-off three-run homer. As he clicked through each one frame by frame, Cohen noted the head position of each hitter.

“One of our things is about head position at the point of contact, and how close you can get your head to the barrel,” Cohen said.

Maybe such technical minutiae interest me because I’m such a baseball geek, but there you have it. For the weekend, MSU hit .287. Butler led the way with a .556 average (5-for-9), and Russ Sneed batted .538 (7-for-13). They had six RBIs apiece.

The Bulldogs return to action at 4 p.m. today against South Alabama (2-2). Moore will start.

Opinion Offering: Hopson Revisited

February 24, 2009

Well, it’s not so much an opinion offering as a revisiting of the Scotty Hopson saga. The Tennessee freshman spurned Mississippi State after committing to coach Rick Stansbury in 2006. Does Stansbury, who first met Hopson about four years ago, harbor any ill feelings toward him?

“That’s just part of recruiting. Most guys you recruit you’ve known that long,” Stansbury said. “Just recruiting, that’s part of it. Forget it and move on.”

MSU center Jarvis Varnado, a junior, knows Hopson from AAU ball. Both played for the Mid-State Ballerz, a team in Tennessee (Varnado is from Brownsville, while Hopson is from Hopkinsville, Kent., just a few miles from the Kentucky-Tennessee line). Varnado said he spoke with Hopson after the latter switched to UT. What’d he tell him? “All I told him was, ‘Good luck.’ I wasn’t mad about it because he’s got to make his own decision, what’s best for him and his family. He made the right decision, and I wish him the best.”

MSU plays at Tennessee on Wednesday. Hopson has started in 22 of the Volunteers’ 26 games and is averaging 9.1 ppg. He had a team-high 14 points in Saturday’s 77-58 loss to Kentucky.

Blog Bag: Bring It, Brother!

February 23, 2009

I’m feeling kind of Chuck Norris this week, so please, send me your best questions. Any weak ones will get a roundhouse kick to the face, brother! Yeah, I’m feeling a little Hulk Hogan, too. I obviously need to cut back to one cup of coffee per day. Brother!

Back On That Road

February 23, 2009

Mississippi State plays its third road game in 12 days with Wednesday’s trip to Knoxville. The Bulldogs have lost their last two road games, at Auburn and at Alabama, so naturally we all wonder what makes “that road,” as coach Rick Stansbury calls it, so tough. “The thing that makes every venue difficult is the team you’ve got to go against,” he said at today’s media gathering. “It might not be a very difficult environment if that team’s not very good. But if you put a good team in that environment, then you’ve got a difficult environment, a difficult situation, and that’s what Tennessee is.”

So how tough is Tennessee (16-10, 7-5 SEC) at home? Overall, the Volunteers are 9-4 at Thompson-Boling Arena, including a 4-2 mark in SEC play. The losses came against Gonzaga (89-79, OT), Kentucky (90-72), then-No. 22 Memphis (54-52) and LSU (79-73). Some pretty stiff competition there, and as we know, UT has the league’s highest RPI (25).

“They had some great wins early. They haven’t been as consistent of late. They haven’t played as well on the road of late for sure,” Stansbury said. But he warned that the Vols are like a hand grenade waiting to go off (my metaphor, actually): “Tennessee has enough talent to get on a roll and be as good and as consistent as anybody in this league down the stretch.”

MSU (17-10, 7-5) sure needs to get on a roll. Now would be a great time, what with Auburn, Florida and Ole Miss to follow the Tennessee game. As expected, Stansbury tried to deflect talk of postseason speculation. “If it was against the deaf and blind, it wouldn’t matter right now. They all count as one win and one loss. It’s just the next game,” he said. “We’re trying to win games; who it’s against, at this point it doesn’t matter.”

Don’t think the players don’t understand the magnitude of this one, though. “To have an NCAA chance, this is one of the games that we’ve got to have,” freshman point guard Dee Bost said. I’ll have more on Bost and his fellow Bulldog youngsters later this week.

Spring Football Practice Schedule

February 23, 2009

Here it is. Remember, it’s open to the public:

Tuesday, March 24 – 3:30 p.m.

Thursday, March 26 – 3:30 p.m.

Saturday, March 28 – 10 a.m.

Tuesday, March 31 – 3:30 p.m.

Thursday, April 2 – 3:30 p.m.

Friday, April 3 – 3:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 4 – 10 a.m.

Tuesday, April 7 – 3:30 p.m.

Thursday, April 9 – 3:30 p.m.

Friday, April 10 – 3:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 11 – 10 a.m.

Tuesday, April 14 – 3:30 p.m.

Thursday, April 16 – 3:30 p.m.

Friday, April 17 – 3:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 18 – Maroon-White Game, 5:30 p.m.

Checking In On Scotty Hopson

February 23, 2009

You all remember a kid named Scotty Hopson, don’t you? Sorry if it dregs up bad memories, but as Mississippi State is visiting Tennessee this week, it seems appropriate to address the 6-foot-7 freshman. In fact, tomorrow’s column is about Hopson.

Quick review for the uninformed (if there are any): Hopson committed to MSU in 2006 but switched to Tennessee last year. He’s starting for the Volunteers and averaging 9.1 points per game. State coach Rick Stansbury said he can’t give an “honest evaluation” of Hopson’s play this year based on what little tape he’s seen on him, but UT assistant Jason Shay – filling in for Bruce Pearl on today’s SEC teleconference – said Hopson is coming along fine.

“I think Scotty has improved a long ways, playing in big games, and his consistency over the last few ballgames has been great,” Shay said. “To go into a tough environment in Rupp (Arena) in his home state and play well for us there despite struggles early in the ballgame, I think he made some plays to get us going, and we were able to cut into the lead at Kentucky.”

Hopson led Tennessee with 14 points in Saturday’s 77-58 loss at UK.

Stansbury said he hasn’t thought about the what-if concerning Hopson. He’d have been a great addition to lineup, no doubt, but as Stansbury said, “If I entertained the what-ifs in everything that transpires in a basketball program, you know what I would be, don’t you? We’ve got a lot of what-ifs all the time, but the sooner you can put what-if behind you, the better off you are in this profession.”

As for Hopson, he said last week that he is lovin’ it in Knoxville.

Hoops: Not Dead Yet

February 23, 2009

At the risk of blowing smoke, let me say that Mississippi State’s NCAA tournament hopes are not dead yet. On life support, yes, but not dead. They’re like the old dude in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” in that one more blow could finish the Bulldogs. Maybe the Alabama loss was that blow, but I don’t think so.

MSU is still second in the SEC Western Division at 7-5. But right on its heels are Auburn and Ole Miss at 6-6. State has lost to both teams, but one meeting with each awaits (Auburn on Saturday, Ole Miss in the March 7 season finale). The Bulldogs’ other two remaining games are against Eastern foes Tennessee (7-5) on Wednesday and Florida (8-4) on March 4. The Gators are co-leaders of the East along with Kentucky and South Carolina, teams that MSU has defeated.

So what MSU is playing for right now is a high SEC Tournament seed. As an at-large NCAA berth is unlikely – that 85 RPI is an eyesore – State’s best hope lies in getting a good draw and making a run to the SEC title. It’s just that simple. Making it to the championship game and losing? Probably not good enough.

Finishing second in the West means a bye in the first round of the SEC Tournament. That means one less game to play and, of course, increases the chances of getting to and winning that title game. There you go. They’re not dead yet.

Hoops: Alabama 87, MSU 85 (2OT)

February 21, 2009

After going 11 years without playing a double-overtime game, MSU has played two in the last 10 days, and lost them both. And in both, Jarvis Varnado fouled out in the first OT. State had absolutely no inside game after he left.

Barry Stewart attempted, and missed, four (after further review) potential game-winning shots in the overtime periods. He finished with a team-high 20 points, but on 6-of-19 shooting (4 of 11 from 3-point range). Dee Bost scored 17, Varnado 16 (to go with 11 rebounds and 8 blocks), and Ravern Johnson 14.

Alonzo Gee scored 28 for Alabama (14-12, 4-8), and his 3-pointer with 1:46 to go in the final OT put the Tide ahead to stay, at 84-82. Senario Hillman added 21 points.

MSU set a school record for 3-point attempts in a game with 39, making just 12 of them (30.8 percent). The Bulldogs were 27 of 80 overall (33.8 percent). Alabama shot 26-66 (39.4) overall and 4 of 11 from 3-point range (36.4).

Some quotes, starting with MSU coach Rick Stansbury:

• “We just didn’t make the right play here or there to win the basketball game. It wasn’t because of a lack of effort, it wasn’t because a lack of fighting. As a coach, that’s all you can ever ask. Everybody’s leaving their heart and soul on the floor again, and we did that.”

• On Stewart’s shots at end: “We just didn’t make the shot either time. That’s what happened both times, regulation and overtime. If he didn’t make the shots, it wasn’t because he didn’t try to make them, I promise you.”

• On how it hurt not having Varnado: “You know the answer to that. Every play without Jarvis is huge.”

From Stewart:

• “I think we played hard. We had plenty of chances to give up tonight, but I think we fought, we just didn’t make those key pays and key stops.”

• On his late miss in second OT: “I wanted to get him leaning, and pull up on him. I had a good look, but it fell short.”

Varnado now:

• On watching from the bench: “I wanted to be out there, but unfortunately I wasn’t. It was real frustrating I couldn’t lead my team to victory.”

And Phil Turner (10 points):

• “We didn’t give up and they didn’t give up. This time, they got the better end of the bargain, but not because we didn’t do all that we could. This time the ball didn’t roll in our favor. Next time we’ll get them, in the tournament or whenever we see them again.”

Finally, Alabama coach Phillip Pearson:

• On Gee: “I was so happy for him. He works so hard after practice. He’s usually the last guy to leave the gym.”

• On Varnado: ” How many more shots did he change, 18? He’s so long, and he’s been around the league enough, with experience, he knows where he can play, pick his spots, what he can get away with.”