A stingy defense has helped Mississippi State to its best start since 2017-18.
The Bulldogs (6-0) will look to keep rolling and also prevent visiting Omaha (3-4) from its first three-game winning streak when they meet Monday night in Starkville, Miss.
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Mississippi State won its first four against favorable competition by an average margin of 27 points. However, the Bulldogs truly proved their worth via consecutive three-point victories over Marquette and Utah to win last week’s Fort Myers Tip-Off title.
The Bulldogs shot just 30.3 percent in the tournament, including 17 for 67 from the field and 9 for 38 from beyond the 3-point arc in a 52-49 win over the Utes in the title game. However, Mississippi State held Marquette and Utah to 36.9 percent shooting overall and 25.5 percent (12 of 47) from distance.
Mississippi State ranks among the top 10 nationally in scoring defense (48.5 points allowed), field-goal percentage defense (32.8) and 3-point percentage defense (23.6).
“Certainly we want to play better offense,” said first-year coach Chris Jans, who went 122-32 at New Mexico State the previous five seasons. “But if you can rely on (defense) to get you through some rough spots … you can still find a way to win.”
Despite the Bulldogs’ offensive issues, Tolu Smith (15.7 ppg, 11.0 rpg) was MVP at Fort Myers after recording 16 rebounds in each game and 16 points versus Utah.
Mississippi State last won its first seven during an 8-0 start in 2017-18. Meanwhile, Omaha hasn’t won three straight since February 2020.
However, after falling 100-64 to then-No. 25 Iowa, the Mavericks beat Louisiana-Monroe 63-56 before defeating Southern 88-78 to claim the Emerald Coast Classic consolation title.
“I think we made some steps (against ULM) in our growth and maturity. I thought (versus Southern), there was even more growth,” Omaha coach Chris Crutchfield said. “Let’s be who I think we can be, and be a good basketball team.”
Omaha is led by Marquel Sutton (11.6 ppg) and Frankie Fidler (11.1 ppg).
The Mavericks averaged 63.0 points and shot 41.6 percent in losing to Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa this season. Those teams averaged 88.0 points and shot 52.7 percent versus Omaha.
–Field Level Media
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