SEC Teleconference: Ray Says Reeling Bulldogs in ‘Pretty Good’ Mental State

We caught up with MSU coach Rick Ray on today’s SEC coaches teleconference. His Bulldogs (7-15, 2-8 SEC), losers of eight consecutive games, host Missouri (17-6, 6-4) on Wednesday and then travel to LSU (13-8, 4-6) on Saturday. Ray talks about the losing streak, his personnel issues, and implies that guard Jalen Steele remains suspended (the junior guard was given an indefinite suspension for a violation of team rules, beginning with Saturday’s loss to Florida).

Here’s the entire Ray transcript.

Opening comment:

Coming off a difficult week. We played two road games against the two top teams in the SEC. I was a little disappointed with the way we started off our game at Ole Miss with that being a rivalry game. But I thought our guys did very well in the second half. We just dug ourselves too deep of a hole in that first half. Our starting center, Gavin Ware, only played four minutes in that first half and had three fouls. We’ve got to do a better job of our post guys guarding without fouling. And then going into Florida, obviously they’re playing really well, doing a good job at their home court and protecting that. I thought our guys calmed down a little bit there in the second half and played better. What we’re trying to do right now is we continually do some things that we beat ourselves. When you’re playing quality ball clubs like Ole Miss and Florida, you’ve got to make sure you’re doing things to eliminate mistakes so you give yourself at least a chance to be competitive and win a ballgame on the road.

Challenges of finding a consistent starting lineup:

It’s a by-product of, first of all, not having enough guys to put forth a team where you can constantly have the same five guys. Also we’ve had some problems here with suspensions, so that changes things in our starting lineup. The other thing is just the youth and inexperience that we have on our team. Some guys are going to go through lulls or hit that wall where you need to get them out of the starting lineup and bring them off the bench. And some guys, because they’re playing better, deserve to get in that starting lineup. To me it’s not that big of a deal who’s starting and who’s not starting, because at the end of the day, with this team, you’re going to play. You’re going to play significant minutes, so it’s really not that big of a deal.

Where is team at mentally during this eight-game losing streak?

You know what, surprisingly in a pretty good state. The one thing that you always concern yourself with when you’re coaching a team is do they still fight, do they still compete. Are they still locked in and trying to do some of the things that you want them to do on and off the court. And to our guys’ credit, we have some situations where we don’t play like we need to play for stretches, but we haven’t come out in any particular game at all and just not fought or competed. We’re dealing with a short roster, and I think fatigue plays a factor, especially (because) we have so many guys that it’s the first time they’ve played Division I college basketball. So not just fatigue physically, mental fatigue, too. Getting ready for a new team, a new scouting report, two times a week can be exhausting for them, too. I’m not really concerned about the state of our guys right now, because we’ve got good kids on our team, and they’re trying to do things the right way. We’ve just got to try to find a way to forge ahead and hopefully get a victory some time here in the near future.

How difficult will it be to match up with Mizzou?

It’ll be a difficult matchup. It starts with Phil Pressey. He just has such control of his team. He can do so many things off the ball screen, and just like in open space. The thing that concerns me the most about him is when they set those ball screens for him in transition, where your post guy’s running back into the lane, and all of a sudden you realize your man’s out at halfcourt or at the 3-point line setting a ball screen, (and) you’re nowhere near where you need to be in order to get the ball stopped. And now you’ve got Pressey coming downhill at you because those talented wings they have – like (Earnest) Ross and (Jabari) Brown – it just really puts you in a bind. Any time that Pressey gets into the paint, now you’re susceptible to offensive rebounds, and (Alex) Oriakhi and (Laurence) Bowers, those guys go crashing in there because you’ve sunk in there for penetration. I think they’re a really talented ball club. They pose a lot of problems for you because they’ve got guys who are versatile that can do a lot of different things. But to me it all starts right there with Pressey.

How many scholarship players will you have available for Missouri?

It should be the same that we had for Florida.

What’s the message you send the guys right now with a rough stretch upcoming?

The one thing that we continue to talk about with our lot here, we’re down to six scholarship guys and two walk-ons, and the thing we want to talk about continuing with our team is just improvement. Not just a team improvement, but individual improvement. You take a kid like Gavin Ware, who had a little bit of a lull to start the SEC season, for those first two wins, but now he’s starting to come back and be a force in the paint for us. So I’m trying to find ways to get them better individually. Another guy like Craig Sword, who’s had the turnover rate, just trying to get him to reduce the turnovers so he can be that effective basketball player that we know he can be. So you’re talking about things and focusing in on the little things as far as individual player development. And then we talk to those guys about being open to the team concept, and so if you make improvement as an individual player, then you’re going to help the team become better. Those are the things that we focus in on right now, just improvement, improvement.

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I’ve also got some highlights of Missouri coach Frank Haith‘s teleconference chat.

On 0-5 road record:

You look at the numbers, we haven’t defended well on the road, we haven’t shot the ball as well on the road. Teams are going to play better at home than they do on the road. The first two games we played at Ole Miss and at Florida, we weren’t healthy. You know, Laurence Bowers or Keion Bell. The last two we played better at LSU and A&M. We just didn’t finish those games. We’re still not defending like I would like us to do. That’s all a mental toughness type thing. I’m hoping we can get that going here down the stretch because four of our next five are on the road.

As you look to get an NCAA bid, do you impress on your guys that they have to bulk up their résumé with some road wins?

Absolutely. There’s no question for us to have the kind of success we think we’re capable of having. You’ve got to win some games on the road.

What have you notice about MSU on film during its eight-game losing streak?

Rick has done a great job. When teams do, in terms of losing eight straight, I haven’t seen this team quiet. They compete, they fight and they play extremely hard. That credit goes to Rick in terms of just getting his guys to go out there and compete night in and night out. To me, we’ve got to be ready to play. We haven’t had success on the road. We’re going in to play a team that I think – any team that plays as hard as they play and competes, they’re dangerous. They’ve got a stretch four in the kid (Colin) Borchert, who has really impressed me just in terms of us defending, which I think we struggle. We haven’t defended as well as we need to on the road. They put the pressure on you and they can make some shots. We have to make sure we have the right mindset to go in and compete against them.

I am the online content coordinator for DJournal.com. Previously at the Journal, I covered Mississippi State athletics (2008-13), high schools (2004-08), and was on the copy desk (2002-04). I'm working on a recipe for bacon-flavored coffee, which would solve all the world's problems.

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