Gameday: Five Things To Know MSU-Virginia

Published 2:33 pm Wednesday, March 16, 2022

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia – Mississippi State men’s basketball team makes its fourth consecutive postseason appearance when end-of-season tournaments have been played as the Bulldogs travel to Virginia for Wednesday’s NIT Round of 32 matchup at John Paul Jones Arena.


The Bulldogs (18-15) have posted a 6-2 mark over their last two NIT appearances. State was the 2021 NIT Runner-Up and made the 2018 NIT Final Four under Ben Howland.

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The Bulldogs captured nonconference wins over the Atlantic 10 Tournament champion in Richmond (82-71 • 11/27) and Sun Belt Tournament champion in Georgia State (79-50 • 12/14).


State also knocked off the Ohio Valley Tournament runner-up in Morehead State (66-46 • 11/21), the Southern Conference Tournament runner-up in Furman (69-66 • 12/17) and the Big South Tournament runner-up in Winthrop (84-63 • 12/21).


During SEC action, Mississippi State protected its home floor with NCAA NET Quad 1 wins over Arkansas (81-68 • 12/29) and No. 24 Alabama (78-76 • 01/15).


The Bulldogs also captured NCAA NET Quad 2 victories over Vanderbilt (74-69 • 02/26) in addition to South Carolina (73-51 • 03/10) during last week’s SEC Tournament.


A balanced scoring effort has been key to Mississippi State’s success this season. The Bulldogs have posted a 11-2 mark when at least four players register 10-plus points.


Virginia (19-13) ripped off victories in seven of its last 11 games since the calendar turned to February. The Cavaliers earned a road win over then No. 7 Duke and picked up a pair of victories over NCAA Tournament participant Miami during that span.

The Matchup: Mississippi State (18-15, 8-10 SEC) vs. Virginia (19-13, 12-8 ACC)
Where: Charlottesville, Virginia – John Paul Jones Arena
When: Wednesday, March 16, 6:00 p.m. CT
Live Stats: StatBroadcast (

TV: ESPN2 (Watch ESPN App)
Talent: Doug Sherman, Daymeon Fishback
DirecTV: Ch. 209, Dish: Ch. 143, AT&T U-Verse: Ch. 1606, MaxxSouth: Ch. 1024, C Spire: Ch. 202
Online: Watch ESPN App (Cable Subscription Required)

Radio: Mississippi State Sports Network – Powered by Learfield
TalentNeil Price, Richard Williams
Affiliates: WKBB-FM 100.9 Starkville/West Point (Full List:
Free Online Audio: Hail State Plus (; The Varsity Network App
“We felt like we were going to be in the NIT based on the [NCAA] NET and the KenPom rankings after our loss to Tennessee. I discussed it right after the game with both Iverson [Molinar] and Tolu [Smith] as we were walking to the postgame press conference. They were both excited to keep playing. Tolu only got to play in about 60 percent of our games this year due to injury. So, he’s very excited to keep playing. We had the toughest draw in the NIT because we were supposed to be hosting as a three seed. Not only do we have to go on the road, we have to play one of the toughest teams you could possibly play in Virginia.”


“We have to have good shooting. Their defense is so packed in and so reactive to any drives that you really have to make jump shots to beat them. They’re going to get a hand up and contest the level of release. They do a great job doubling in the post and trying to keep it out of the post as much as possible. They always have three guys back on defense and never give up on transition. Their tempo is very patient and controlled. They’re going to have the ball a lot in their hands. They never turn it over and are one of the top teams in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio. They’ve got a lot of things going their way. You have to shoot the ball well to beat them.”


“He’s [Jayden Gardner] a really good player, came from East Carolina and is very strong. He’s 6-6, 246 pounds. He doesn’t shoot a lot of three’s, but he gets to the foul line a lot and is a good foul shooter. He’s very strong and physical. He can face up and jab step you all day long. He can attack you and score at the basket. He’s really strong and physical. He’s a real presence. We’re going to have to try and hold our own physically with him.”


1. Mississippi State’s coaching staff led by Ben Howland along with assistant coaches George Brooks, Korey McCray and Ernie Zeigler are in their seventh season together in Starkville during the 2021-22 season. The Bulldogs’ coaching quartet is second-longest tenured group at the Power 5 level only behind the West Virginia staff, who is entering its 10th season under Bob Huggins.


Entering the NIT, Mississippi State holds top three marks on the league leaderboard in field goal percentage (45.4 – 2nd), rebounding margin (+5.9 – 2nd) and defensive rebounding percentage (74.0 – 3rd).

State sits at No. 35 in the ESPN BPI, checks in at No. 45 in the ratings and holds the No. 57 spot in the NCAA NET rankings.

11 of the 15 losses for the Bulldogs have come against NCAA Quad 1 opponents this season. Nine of the 11 losses have come on the road or at a neutral site with eight of the setbacks also have come by single digits.

  1. Last time out, Mississippi State splits its games at the SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs blitzed South Carolina, 73-51, behind a dominant second half before bowing out to No. 9 Tennessee, 72-59, in the quarterfinal round.


The South Carolina game was highlighted by Tolu Smith’s 20 points and 12 rebounds followed by Andersson Garcia’s career-best 14 rebounds during his first career start. Iverson Molinar tacked on 19 points, while Shakeel Moore delivered a solid all-around effort with 12 points, five assists, five rebounds and a +31 scoring differential while in the game.


State’s defense held the Gamecocks to four field goals during the second half and to only one bucket over the last 10-plus minutes of the game.


  1. Iverson Molinar, an All-SEC First-Team selection by the coaches and Bailey Howell Trophy recipient,is the only SEC player to score in double figures in every game his team has played in this season. He and Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell are the only two players nationally to accomplish the feat.

    The 33-game streak for Molinar is the longest for a MSU player to start a season in program history. Jeff Malone, the program’s all-time leading scorer, held the previous mark with double figures in all 29 games of the 1982-83 season.


Molinar, a native of Panama, is one of four State players to register back-to-back seasons with over 500 points during the 2000s. The list includes Lawrence Roberts (2003-04 & 2004-05), Jamont Gordon (2006-07 & 2007-08) and Quinndary Weatherspoon (2017-18 & 2018-19). Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis, Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn and Molinar are the only Power 5 players to accomplish the feat during the last two seasons.


Molinar is 35 points away of being able to eclipse 1,300 career points and Timmy Bowers (2001-02-03-04) to move into 22nd place on the program’s all-time scoring list. He is one of 28 players overall and one of five players during Coach Howland’s tenure to score 1,200-plus points at State.


Molinar is one of four SEC players to be ranked among the league’s top 12 in scoring (17.6 PPG – 3rd), field goal percentage (45.2 – 8th) and assists (3.6 – 12th). The list includes Kennedy Chandler (Tennessee), Scotty Pippen Jr. (Vanderbilt) and Jahvon Quinerly (Alabama).


Molinar is ranked among the SEC leaders in free throw percentage (86.7 – 2nd), and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.57 – 7th). He has scored or assisted on 36.7 percent of MSU’s points this season.
Tolu Smith is the SEC’s defending rebounding champion and racked up the most double-doubles among SEC players last season. If he qualified for the SEC leaderboard, Smith would rank 3rd in field goal percentage (57.1), 12th in points (14.1) and 13th in rebounds (6.2).


Smith has pumped home 19.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game over his last six outings (02/23-03/11), fueled by three consecutive games of 20-plus points: 22 points against No. 5 Auburn (03/02), 22 points versus Vanderbilt (02/26) and 21 points at South Carolina (02/23).


Smith captured his 5th career 20-10 performance with 20 points and a season-high tying 12 rebounds against South Carolina (03/10) in the SEC Tournament. He dialed up season-high tying 22 points and 12 re­bounds versus No. 5 Auburn (03/03).


Smith has garnered 10-plus in 15 of his 20 appearances in 2021-22 and in 35 of his 50 career games at State. Seven of his nine career outings of 20-plus points have come against SEC opponents.

  1. Mississippi State’s transfer class of Garrison Brooks, D.J. Jeffries, Shakeel Moore and Rocket Watts has amassed 3,405 career points and 159 career games in double figures. The quartet has combined for 43.5 percent of State’s points this season.


Brooks is the only active Power 5 player with over 1,500 career points and 1,000 career rebounds.

He has pumped in 10-plus points in 19 games this season which is good enough for second on the team. Brooks provided a SEC season-high 18 points against South Carolina (02/01).
Brooks has piled up 15 of his 19 career double-doubles versus Power 5 competition. Three of his four double-doubles have come against SEC opponents in 2021-22. He posted 11 points and 11 rebounds at LSU (02/12) for last double-double.


Mississippi State is 11-5 when Jeffries scores in double figures. He amassed a season’s best 19 points against Winthrop (12/21) and his SEC season-high is 15 points at No. 25 Alabama (02/16).

The Olive Branch product has fired in 10-plus points in 16 games with eight outings coming against SEC opponents this season.

Jeffries has showcased his versatility with 12 games of 5-plus rebounds, 8 games of 3-plus assists, 6 games of 2-plus steals and 5 games of 2-plus blocks.

Moore has had 11 of 17 career games of 10-plus points come this season at MSU. The North Carolina native provided a SEC’s season’s best 18 points at Florida (01/19) coupled with a pair of 15-point efforts during SEC victories over Arkansas (12/29) and No. 24 Alabama (01/15). He also added a 15-point performance versus No. 9 Tennessee (03/11) at the SEC Tournament.

Moore has collected multiple steals in five of his last eight games and on 18 occasions this season. His 1.6 steals per game check in 12th on the SEC leaderboard.

  1. Andersson Garciahas stuffed the stats sheet with 7.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.9 steals per game over State’s last eight games (02/18-03/11).


Garcia worked his way to a career-high 14 points at Texas A&M (03/05) and hauled down a career-best 14 rebounds against South Carolina (03/10) in the SEC Tournament. The 14 rebounds are tied for the second-most by a MSU player during a SEC Tournament game.


State is 10-3 when Garcia scores at least six points this sea­son. Eight of his top nine scoring performances in 2021-22 have come against SEC opponents.


Garcia has turned in 14 games of 5-plus rebounds, 12 games of 2-plus steals and 12 games with 2-plus assists. He has 5-plus rebounds in eight straight games followed by three-plus assists and two-plus steals in four of his last five games.

Mississippi State has won two of the previous three meetings over the Cavaliers, the latest an 86-84 win during the 1988-89 season under Richard Williams. Greg Carter led five Bulldogs in double figures with 16 points.



Virginia holds NCAA Top 25 marks in scoring defense (60.2 – 8th), turnovers per game (9.8 – 10th) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.42 – 22nd). The Cavaliers have amassed an impressive 142-21 record headlined by an ACC-best 78-13 mark in league games over the last 10 seasons under Tony Bennett at home.


Virginia enters NIT action with a trio of players averaging in double figures fueled by Jayden Gardner (15.3 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.5 PPG). The 15.3 points and 6.6 rebounds check in 12th on the ACC leaderboard. He has dialed up 26 games in double figures ignited by seven outings of 20-plus points and tacked on six double-doubles. Gardner’s ACC season’s best was 26 points versus Georgia Tech (02/12).


Armaan Franklin (10.9 PPG, 1.5 APG, 1.1 SPG) and Kihei Clark (10.3 PPG, 4.2 APG, 3.1 RPG) have combined for 93 of the team’s 160 three-pointers on the season. The 4.2 dimes for Clark is good enough for fifth in the ACC rankings. For his career, Clark has amassed over 1,000 career points and 500 career assists. He piled up a season-high 25 points coupled with seven assists, six rebounds and two steals versus No. 7 Duke (02/23).


Reece Beekman (7.9 PPG, 5.0 APG, 3.8 RPG, 2.1 SPG) is the ACC’s leader in steals and the 5.0 assists are second in the ACC. He secured 15 points and 12 assists for his lone double-double at Louisville (03/05) to close out the regular season.


Kaden Shaderick (7.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.0 BPG) is one of the ACC’s top shot blockers and has made 16 of his last 17 appearances off the bench. His 2.0 blocks are third among the ACC leaders. Shaderick pumped home a season-leading 20 points on 8-of-9 from the field at Louisville (03/05).


The winner of Wednesday’s matchup advances to face North Texas or Texas State during the NIT Round of 16 over the weekend. Game date, tip time and television network assignment will be announced after the completion of all NIT Round of 32 games.


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