Starkville Daily News

MSU looks to finish regular season strong


It was exactly a month ago when Mississipp­i State was at its low in coach Sam Purcell’s first season.

The Bulldogs were never in the games against Ole Miss and Georgia on the road and put up two disappoint­ing efforts in blowout losses. The Ole Miss loss was the second this season against the rival as the Rebels earned a sweep of the season series for the first time in 15 years. The second was a loss of nearly 30 points on the road to Georgia in which State scored just 34 points.

Purcell brought his team back to Starkville and didn’t yell at them or question its toughness. He put down a circle of chairs and he had a genuine conversati­on. He let his team talk and get things off their chest. He pushed them to find their way out of a pit and fight through the noise.

“Thank God your season isn’t determined on a message board or Twitter because I think I would have been done 10 games ago,” Purcell joked. “People are entitled to their opinion, but the truth is behind those closed doors. We went old school, put chairs around and had a conversati­on. We looked each other in the eyes and said, ‘what can I do better? How can we lift each other up?’ Most importantl­y, I said, ‘let’s just get healthy.’ The reason that we’re having success now is it’s a different person night in and night out.”

Since those two losses, the Bulldogs have begun to play their best basketball. They’ve won five of the last six games with two Quad I victories after having zero resume-building victories prior. The team’s only loss came on the road against Missouri and MSU has found itself at 20-8 and 9-6 in the Southeaste­rn Conference with the best regular season since 2019-20.

Most importantl­y, the Bulldogs are in position to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018-19. It’s been a long journey, but it looks like Purcell is going to have MSU dancing again in his first season.

While that tournament berth seems all but sealed up, it wouldn’t hurt to put a big maroon and white bow on it this afternoon. The No. 5 LSU Tigers are the prize at the end of the regular season and Kim Mulkey’s team has been nearly unbeatable this year at 26-1 and the one loss coming at No. 1 South Carolina.

“They’ve got a personalit­y and a swag about them that you can’t deny,” Purcell said about LSU. “I don’t have to say much because we all see it on TV. Angel Reese is putting up historic numbers, but they’re more than just one player. They’re a team and that’s why they’re having the year that they’re having.they have a fan base too with rich history that is supporting them and Kim is doing an unbelievab­le job this year. We’re excited about that finishing up the year.”

Reese has emerged as the SEC Player of the Year front runner after transferri­ng from Maryland. She’s had a monster season this year averaging 23.7 points and 15.6 rebounds, becoming a walking double-double.

The Bulldogs have a challenge on their hands in the post, but Jessika Carter has seen some great ones before. Carter is averaging 14.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks herself. She returned to the floor against Arkansas with 16 points and 13 rebounds after battling an illness and missing two games.

Jerkaila Jordan is playing her best basketball and is now averaging 11.8 points and five rebounds for MSU, while Ahlana

Smith has climbed up to 9.9 points and 3.8 boards this year. Anastasia Hayes’ point production is way down this year at 8.1 per outing, but she’s changed her game and has become one of the best passers in the country with 4.5 assists per game.

Hayes is in her final few games with the Bulldogs and is ready to make a run. Postseason games have been few for her in her career and this is her chance to finish strong.

“In the SEC, everyone plays hard, everyone is athletic and everyone can play,” Hayes said. “To win five out of six games is amazing and shows how much growth we’ve made as a team. We’re coming together at the right time. We’ve got a big one on Sunday and I’ll choose mine over anybody.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States