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Gameday: Five Things to Know about MSU-Clemson

STARKVILLE – Mississippi State returns to the hardwood and begins its 2020-21 season versus Clemson during Wednesday’s opening round of the 2020 Space Coast Challenge from Titan Field House on the Eastern Florida State College campus.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT MISSISSIPPI STATE

  1. Mississippi State has piled up three consecutive 20-plus win seasons and 68 total victories since the start of 2017-18. All five occurrences where the Bulldogs have posted three straight seasons of 20-plus wins have come during the 2000s. The 68 wins are fourth-highest in the SEC only behind Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee since 2017-18 along with the fourth-most in program history during a three-year span.
  1. Mississippi State’s coaching staff led by Ben Howland along with assistant coaches George Brooks, Korey McCray and Ernie Zeigler are in their sixth season together in Starkville during the 2020-21 season. Howland enters the 2020-21 season one victory shy of 500 career wins and two wins away from 100 victories at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs coaching quartet is one of eight current coaching staffs in the country to remain together at the same school for at least six seasons. The other staffs include Michigan State (11th) led by Tom Izzo, West Virginia (9th) led by Bob Huggins, UAlbany (9th) led by Will Brown, Kansas (7th) led by Bill Self, Oregon (7th) led by Dana Altman, Vermont (7th) led by John Becker and Bradley (6th) led by Brian Wardle.
  1. Iverson Molinar, Tolu Smith and D.J. Stewart Jr. are ready to etch their names among the notable freshmen-to-sophomore jumps at Mississippi State under Ben Howland. Stewart Jr. averaged 8.5 points per game and started 15 of MSU’s last 16 games a season ago. He posted 14 games in double figures and amassed four of his five top five scoring performances over his last 11 outings. Molinar began his freshman campaign with five games of 10-plus points during non-conference action headed by a 21-point performance versus Tulane. Smith, a transfer from Western Kentucky, transferred his body while sitting out as a transfer in 2019-20. He averaged 3.3 points per game in 2018-19 at WKU.
  1. Abdul Ado, one of the SEC’s top shot blockers, will anchor Mississippi State’s defense once again in 2020-21. He has ranked among the SEC’s top 10 in blocks shots during each of his first three seasons headed by 1.9 blocks per game and a fourth-place finish last season. Overall, Ado has piled up 182 career blocks, which ranks sixth in program history. His 1.86 career blocks per game is third in program history only behind NCAA all-time leader Jarvis Varnado and Erick Dampier.
  1. Mississippi State’s roster features a talented group of newcomers. The freshmen class features by Derek Fountain, Andersson Garcia, Cameron Matthews, Reggie Morris, Keondre Montgomery and Deivon Smith. Deivon Smith is the eighth top 100 signee to sign with the Bulldogs under coach Ben Howland, while the trio of Fountain, Matthews and Montgomery are the state of Mississippi’s top three prospects for the Class of 2020. In addition to Tolu Smith, Mississippi State also has added a pair of experienced transfers in Javian Davis and Jalen Johnson.  Johnson piled up 1,061 points and 495 rebounds between his three seasons at Saint Louis and Louisiana-Lafayette. He has collected 50 career outings of 10-plus points and 11 outings of 20-plus points. Davis posted 6.0 points and 3.8 rebounds per game over his 31 appearances as a redshirt freshmen at Alabama in 2019-20. His top performance was a 20-point, 10-rebound effort against South Carolina.

FROM THE LOCKER ROOM

HEAD COACH BEN HOWLAND

“We’re all about rise in expectation. The next guy is up if someone goes down. The bottom line is and what I demand of my players is that you do your very best. Do everything you can in your best ability and to be the best you can be each and every day in everything that you do. That’s through the basketball floor and in the classroom. That’s what we’re teaching, preaching, and asking them to do. As long as they’re giving it everything they’ve got and doing everything they can do to be their best, both individually and collectively, that’s all I can ask.”

“I was getting pretty sick to my gut watching them [Clemson] beat Florida State last year late in the season on film. They beat Duke, they beat North Carolina, they beat Louisville and they beat Florida State. All of those guys are back with the exception of one guy. They’ve added some really good pieces. P.J. Hallthe freshman coming in, I loved when I watched him in AAU. They’re very, very good and really well coached. We’ve definitely got our hands full with Clemson, which we knew. It’s going to be an incredible challenge, especially for a number of these kids that are playing for the first time in high major basketball.”

 

GUARD D.J. STEWART JR.

“I’ve really tried to be more vocal and more of a vocal leader, kind of leading the way both on and off the court. I kind of just knew that when all of the guys left [Tyson Carter, Reggie Perry, Nick Weatherspoon, Robert Woodard II], I was going to have a bigger role. I just had to get ready and stay ready. We’re really tough. I feel like we compete very hard. We have a lot of fight in these young guys that came in. I really just think we’re going to be a tough, competing team.”

 

FORWARD TOLU SMITH

“It’s a great feeling. It’s been a while and long journey for me, so I’m just glad to be back on the court [after transferring and redshirting]. All around, I just feel like we have a good group of guys just willing to work, blue collar athletes. I realized that from the jump. We have people who want to come in and work every day. I feel like with that alone we’ll be successful. I feel like Coach [Howland] has a lot of expectations for me. My goals are to just go out and play as hard as I can each day and each game.”

KNOW YOUR OPPONENT

Clemson has posted 20-plus wins during two of the last three seasons highlighted by a trip to the 2018 NCAA Sweet 16 under Brad Brownell. The Tigers return four of their top five scorers from a season ago headed by Aamir Sims (13.0 PPG, 7.2 RPG), who is a preseason All-ACC First-Team selection and listed on the Karl Malone Award Watch list given to the nation’s top power forward.

Clemson has signed ESPN top 60 recruit P.J. Hall out of Roebuck, South Carolina. The Tigers also are slated to receive an added boost from Nick Honor, who sat out the 2019-20 season after transferring from Fordham. He posted 15.3 points and 3.0 assists per game in 2018-19 during his freshman season en route to Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team status.

 

UP NEXT

Mississippi State takes on Liberty or Purdue on Thursday to wrap up the Space Coast Challenge. Tip time is set for 5 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. CT televised by CBS College Sports Network.

Visit www.HailState.com for the latest news and information on the men’s basketball program. Fans also can follow the program on its social media outlets by searching ‘HailStateMBK’ on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.