STARKVILLE — Mississippi State coach Chris Jans knows what it takes to complete basketball games.
Mental strength. Trust. The ability to stick together. Create real-time recordings – and make them.
Jans and the Bulldogs appear to be down the top three. But the fourth just hasn’t happened yet.
Game after game, the state of Mississippi struggles to knock down important baskets on the track. It happened in Georgia. At Auburn. Against Tennessee on Tuesday and Florida on Saturday. All four games ended in defeats.
A fighting Bulldogs team has problems Jans can’t fix.
“If I had known the quick solution, I would have done it already,” he said on Monday. “I’m not sure why. Of course it’s my job to know.”
With a trip to No. 2 Alabama (17-2, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) Wednesday at 8 p.m., Mississippi State (12-7, 1-6 SEC) isn’t getting a break anytime soon. MSU will host No. 11 TCU (15-4, 4-3 Big 12) in Saturday’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge, marking a tough week for a team that showed most of their goodwill early in the lost season.
The Bulldogs could have reclaimed some things by beating Florida on Saturday, but the 16-point deficit in the first half proved too much to overcome.
Mississippi State caught up twice late in the game but couldn’t maintain its production until the final buzzer.
“We played well enough – we certainly made mistakes – to win the game if you could keep the execution and intensity in the second half compared to the first half,” said Jans.
To beat Alabama on Wednesday, MSU will need to put two of their best halves together this season.
The Bulldogs kept things tight for 20 minutes in their first matchup against the Crimson Tide, trailing by four at the break before Bama pulled away in a 78-67 win.
Jans praised coach Nate Oats’ team on Monday, citing the youth of star newcomers Brandon Miller and Noah Clowney. Sophomore center Charles Bediako and freshman guard Jaden Bradley also make important contributions.
“It’s remarkable how good they are considering how young they are,” said Jans. “They certainly have some experienced guys, but some of their best players are new to college basketball.”
Miller is averaging nearly 20 points per game on 45.7 percent of shots from deep, while junior guard Mark Sears is second on the team at 14.6 points per game.
Alabama has five players — Miller, Sears, Bradley, and guards Nimari Burnett and Jahvon Quinerly — averaging 33.3 percent shooting from 3 or better. The state of Mississippi only has two: Dashawn Davis and freshman Kimani Hamilton.
“They have a bunch of guys who shoot the ball pretty well,” Jans said of The Tide. “Some of the guys who didn’t used to be – guys you might not have had to guard on the 3-point line – are now making 3s, which makes them even harder to defend.”
As good as Alabama’s offense is, its defense is even better. KenPom.com ranks The Tide — winners of eight straight games — as the nation’s No. 3 team with 5th best defense and 13th offense.
“They play with so much confidence,” said Jans. “They play the way they are. They know who they are.”
The state of Mississippi also has this confidence.
But it will take a lot more to give the Bulldogs a win on Wednesday night.
Theo DeRosa covers Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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