November 14, 2008

Bulldogs begin season with Centenary

The Mississippi State Bulldogs tip off the 2008-09 campaign on Saturday with a lid-lifter against Centenary at Humphrey Coliseum at 2 p.m.

The Bulldogs have found plenty of success in openers under Rick Stansbury. The 11th year head coach has guided the team to an 8-2 mark overall and 6-1 in home debuts.

"The thing I will say about this team is I love our work ethic and I love our attitude," Stansbury said. "Those things have been very positive. The thing that I have to keep in mind is that it's different than it has been. We have a week less going into that first game. This will be our fourth week so I can't say we are behind. I don't know if any coach is where you want to be but there are a lot of things we've got to get better at. We've got to get tougher."

MSU will begin their quest to three-peat as champions of the Southeastern Conference Western Division again this season. The Bulldogs have captured the SEC West crown in four of the last six seasons and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2007-08.

State will sport several new players this season in search of replacements for departed leading scorers Charles Rhodes and Jamont Gordon. Six new players appear on the Bulldogs roster that were not there a season ago in Jacquiese Holcombe, Dee Bost, Romero Osby, Christopher Gay, Taylor Luczak and Twany Beckham.

Only three players return with any starting experience. National Defensive Player of the Year Jarvis Varnado returns at center after starting 34 games a season ago. Varnado averaged 14.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and eight blocks per game in the first two exhibition games.

"That ball is not going to the paint near enough yet in two ways: on the dribble or on the pass," Stansbury said. "Those are things we've got to keep working with and figure out who can do what best and get those things done. That ball has got to go to the paint one way or the other if you are going to win."

Barry Stewart also returns after 34 starts a season ago at shooting guard. Stewart posted an average of 10.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in the exhibitions.

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