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Feb 9, 2024 10:16 pm

Mississippi State can’t afford slip-up at Missouri

Mississippi State bulldogs

Mississippi State coach Chris Jans spelled out the stakes for his team this week: To keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive, the Bulldogs had to defeat Georgia at home and Missouri on the road.

“It is just the way it is,” Jans said. “Get your mind around it. We were upfront and we don’t normally don’t do that, but we told the truth and made sure they understood what we were about to embark on.”

The Bulldogs (15-8, 4-6 Southeastern Conference) solidified their NET ranking to No. 44 with a 75-62 victory over Georgia on Wednesday. Now they aim to avoid a bad loss Saturday against the Tigers (8-15, 0-10) in Columbia, Mo.

“Just because last year we had a similar record and flipped it doesn’t mean it will happen again,” Jans said. “That team stayed together and stayed the course. This team? I don’t know, but you have to start somewhere and we are on the right track.”

Jans challenged his team to deliver a big week after it took a 99-67 loss at then-No. 24 Alabama on Feb. 3.

“Our focus all week was getting back right defensively,” Mississippi State forward Cameron Matthews said.

KeShawn Murphy stepped up Wednesday in the absence of injured forward D.J. Jeffries, scoring 10 points in 15 minutes off the bench while also playing tough defense. Another reserve, Dashawn Davis, had eight assists against Georgia while committing just one turnover.

The Bulldogs are led by Tolu Smith, who averages 17.1 points and eight rebounds per game. He had a team-high 19 points vs. Georgia.

Missouri dropped its 10th game in a row and lost for the 13th time in 14 games by falling to Texas A&M 79-60 at home Wednesday. The Tigers played without leading scorer Sean East II, who sat out the game due to a knee contusion.

Earlier, Missouri lost Caleb Grill (wrist), Jesus Carralero Martin (foot) and John Tonje (foot) to injuries.

“It’s almost like we have to play perfect basketball, especially with our injuries,” Tigers coach Dennis Gates said. “Our margin of error is very slim because of those situations we’re in and it puts a lot of pressure on the defensive side, the offensive side, to be able to come away with wins.”

East, who averages 15.6 and 4.1 assists per game, is questionable for Saturday’s game. His absence against Texas A&M put more pressure on Tamar Bates, who has averaged 22 points over the past three games.

“No one’s gonna feel sorry for us because we were missing a few players due to injuries and stuff like that,” Missouri guard Nick Honor said. “But yeah, just next guy up. We definitely missed Sean, for sure.”

–Field Level Media

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