With its last non-conference game before the holiday break, No. 17 Mississippi State knows its performance must pick up if the Bulldogs are to maintain their current pace.
Coach Chris Jans’ Bulldogs — one of just five undefeated teams in the country — will face Drake, also the Bulldogs, on Tuesday as part of the three-game Battle in the Vault in Lincoln, Neb.
Mississippi State (11-0) can’t get caught up in its own news and look past Drake (8-3).
In Saturday’s 68-66 victory over visiting Nicholls, the Bulldogs rallied from an incredibly poor-shooting first half, led by double digits in the second and nearly saw the Colonels pull off a shocking upset.
Jans said his squad might have been reading about itself too much, basking in being one of the nation’s few unbeaten schools and third in scoring defense.
“I’m not with them 24/7, and I don’t know if they are reading the headlines and feeling themselves,” Jans said. “But we’ve talked about it, we’ve addressed it.”
While the Southland Conference champion Colonels didn’t light up the scoreboard, the home side could find very little to go in.
Mississippi State was errant on 12 of its first 15 shots and made just 7 of 26 in the half. It also clanked all eight of its shots from distance yet trailed by only three points at the intermission.
Mississippi State led by 12 with 12:26 left in the second half, but even when they appeared to have the game in hand, Nicholls stole an inbounds pass and missed a 3-pointer as time expired.
“It wasn’t pretty,” guard Dashawn Davis said. “It was definitely ugly. We definitely could’ve done better, but an ugly win is better than a loss any day.”
Jans said his team got away from playing its style of defensive-minded ball.
“We have to play the way we have to play to be really good,” the first-year Bulldogs coach said. “If we don’t play that style and don’t rely on our defense and don’t turn people over and are not locked in each and every time, we’re not going to be very good.”
Tolu Smith was very good against Nicholls. He finished with 15 points — 12 in the final 20 minutes — and eight rebounds as the offense went through the 6-foot-11 senior from Bay Saint Louis, Miss.
Drake has lost two straight and is 1-1 in the Missouri Valley Conference, but the Bulldogs from Des Moines, Iowa, started the season by winning six straight and eight of their first nine.
Fifth-year coach Darian DeVries’ club grabbed a nine-point lead with 9:12 to go at Saint Louis on Saturday but lost it, falling 83-75. However, he was encouraged by the play.
“That was some of the best basketball we’ve played all year,” DeVries said. “I loved our movement with 16 assists. We did plenty of good things to put us in a position to win. We have to find ways to close these games out, but we can take a lot of positives out of tonight.”
Tucker DeVries, a 6-foot-7 forward, scored 15 points and is leading Drake with 18.8 points per game. He is shooting 36.1 percent from long range and averaging 5.5 rebounds.
Roman Penn is second in scoring (10.4) while Darnell Brodie tops the team in rebounding (7.3).
–Field Level Media