The Bulldogs and Rebels are a combined 0-5 in SEC road play. That has to change if they are going to work their way into the NCAA Tournament.
As the race for Selection Sunday relevance continues, Mississippi’s SEC entries aren’t trying to find new answers to old questions.
They know what it takes to win SEC road games, but knowledge and execution don’t always go hand-in-hand.
Mississippi State and Ole Miss are a combined 0-5 in conference road play.
The Bulldogs’ next chance comes Wednesday at Florida. They’re at home Saturday against No. 8 Auburn.
The Rebels, coming off a lopsided loss at Auburn, are at home Wednesday against an Arkansas team that has struggled out of the gate. Ole Miss is at Texas A&M Saturday.
The Bulldogs (13-5, 2-3 SEC) have already dropped an SEC home game, falling 82-74 against Alabama, days after a 77-72 upset of No. 5 Tennessee.
“We talk a lot about what’s required to win on the road. If you want to be considered a high-level team, a top team, you’ve got to go into tough environments, stay together and figure out a way to play well enough to win. We talk about what everybody talks about … sticking together, hanging together through the adversity, through the runs, staying focused on the task at hand, not getting too caught up with the crowd and becoming too distracted,” MSU coach Chris Beard said.
He wants to deliver the message without creating a phobia that doesn’t exist right now.
There’s a lot of basketball to be played both home and away, but every game matters.
The Bulldogs missed a chance for a road win in the SEC opener at South Carolina when they almost followed Jans’ instructions to the letter.
They played from behind the entire second half, trailing by as much as nine, but they hung around. Then with 7 seconds left the Bulldogs had a chance to tie or win with a 3 on their last possession. That’s when South Carolina guard Meechie Johnson took the ball from DaShawn Davis. The Gamecocks went on to win 68-62.
The Bulldogs went 3-6 in SEC road games last year, Jans’ first in the league. They were 8-10 overall in conference play and earned a spot in the First Four in Dayton where they lost 60-59 to Pittsburgh.
State lost 90-77 at No. 8 Kentucky in its last road game on Jan. 17. The Bulldogs couldn’t get to the free throw line – just 6-for-10 for the game – and couldn’t keep Kentucky off of it as the Wildcats were 23-for-27.
State struggled to guard the Cats, committing 18 fouls while Kentucky shot 55.6%.
Florida (12-6, 2-3 SEC) is 1-1 in conference home games with a blowout win over Arkansas and a two-point loss to Kentucky.
“We haven’t been able to get a true road win by the metrics, but I believe in this team,” Jans said.
Beard believes in his team too though the gap between the Rebels’ home and road play has been no small space.
The Rebels (15-3, 2-3) are eager to get an SEC road win for Beard in his first season in the league after a successful run in the Big 12.
Beard says March Madness-type basketball teams tend to shot 40% or better from 3.
Right now the Rebels are shooting 38.3% behind the arc but just 28.1% in conference road games. They hit that 40% marker in home wins against Florida and Vanderbilt but last week shot a combined 10-for-41 in losses at LSU and Auburn.
It should be noted that two of the Rebels’ three road losses have come against arguably the SEC’s best teams.
Auburn is 5-0 in the league, Tennessee 4-1. Daunting tasks, yes, but in neither game were the Rebels close.
The Rebels committed a season-high 17 turnovers at Auburn. Ole Miss led 90 seconds into the game before things went to pot. The Rebels were down 19 at the half and trailed by as much as 35 in the second half.
“It wasn’t a high-possession game. With those games it becomes a high priority to try and have great offensive possessions, and we did not early. We had too many possessions where we were just standing around,” Beard said afterward.
For Ole Miss, a rebuilt roster has to learn to play together but also has to learn to play together on the road. Those are different things.
If Beard wasn’t impressed with his offense, he was impressed with the road environment his players faced.
“I’ve been in a lot of the best environments in college basketball, and this was as good as anything I’ve seen in a late January conference game,” he said.
Home crowds like that contribute to a team’s “spurtability.”
The Rebels showed that against not only Florida and Vanderbilt but also against Memphis, which had risen to No. 10 in the AP Top 25 before falling last week to Tulane. The Tigers are No. 19 now.
State and Ole Miss both have to find some spurtability on the road if they’re going to work their way into the NCAA Tournament.
- Mississippi State at Florida, Wednesday, January 24th – 7:30 p.m. on SEC Network
- Arkansas at Ole Miss, Wednesday, January 24th – 8 p.m. on ESPNU
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