Bulldogs out to salvage NCAA hopes

Published 8:00 am Thursday, March 8, 2018

The second round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament will feature a rematch between Mississippi State and LSU, who met just five days earlier in the regular-season finale.

LSU beat Mississippi State 78-57 last Saturday, with Lamar Peters leading the Bulldogs with 15 points and Quinndary Weatherspoon adding 12. For the Tigers, Aaron Epps and Brandon Sampson both scored 16 points. Now the two teams will meet Thursday at 6 p.m. with postseason aspirations on the line. Mississippi State is the seventh-seeded team in the tournament and LSU is No. 10.

This is the second year in a row that the Bulldogs (21-10) and Tigers (17-13) have played each other in the regular-season finale and then again in their first game of the SEC Tournament. Mississippi State swept that doubleheader and now is hoping to avoid being swept out of contention for an NCAA Tournament berth.

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“They’re a good team and played well against us on Saturday,” Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said in a press conference on Tuesday. “We are both fresh in each other’s minds. This happened last year with the same team. I don’t know how often that happens. Both teams have prepared for each other, so there won’t be a lot of secrets.”

LSU coach Will Wade is ready for a tougher matchup in the rematch.

“What worked the first time isn’t going to work a second time,” Wade said in a press conference on Monday. “Mississippi State is going to be ready to play. We were at home, it was senior night, very emotional, charged atmosphere, so we are going to have to come out and ratchet it up another level. What worked on Saturday certainly won’t work on Thursday at six.”

LSU’s postseason aspirations are to make it to the NIT in Wade’s first season, but in order to do that they need to beat the Bulldogs and advance further into the SEC Tournament. Wade knew the Bulldogs could give him completely different looks than the ones the Tigers were so successful against in the first game.

“You just don’t know exactly what they are going to counter with, do something different than what they did the first time,” Wade said. “We are going to need a bunch of different things prepared so we can counter back with what they are doing. It is really going to be a game that we are going to have to get into the flow of the game and see what they are doing and adjust accordingly.”

For Mississippi State, Howland felt the team had to bounce back from a late-season slide that might have cost them a chance to get into the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs were blown out by Tennessee and LSU in their last two games after winning the three games before that.

“We didn’t get up and down enough the last three games,” Howland said. “We have to have some discretion in terms of our shot selection, I thought we took some iffy shots. We have to be better and we have to get more inside shots. We have to get inside more and play more inside-out.”

In order for the Bulldogs to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament, they will likely have to win their next three games and make it to the SEC championship game. Winning it all would secure the league’s automatic bid and remove all doubt. Otherwise, it’ll likely be off to the NIT.

Howland said one of the keys in doing that would be on the offensive end.

“We played poorly the last week of the season, and we have to try and redeem ourselves here,” Howland said. “Hopefully by having a couple days rest, watch some film of those two games, and try to do better on Wednesday.”