Mississippi State men’s basketball set to dance in NCAA’s
Photo credit: Mike Mattina, MSU Athletics
Credit: Mississippi State Athletics
One-by-one, Mississippi State players filed into the film room alongside the coaching staff on Sunday just like they’ve done so many times throughout the season.
However, the Bulldogs weren’t reviewing film or even scouting their next opponent. This time, the team was gathering to watch the NCAA Selection Show and hear their name called as one of the 68 teams going dancing this year.
While chowing down on chicken wings and cookies to preoccupy their time and possibly help calm their nerves, the players and coaches anxiously awaited the moment “Mississippi State” would flash across the screen.
Then it finally happened, the Bulldogs were announced for a play-in game against fellow 11-seed Pittsburgh in Dayton, Ohio on Tuesday at 8:10 p.m. on truTV.
“It was surreal,” said senior forward D.J. Jeffries. “A lot of teams were watching today that didn’t get selected that thought they were. For us to be selected is a blessing. I thank God that we were in this situation and have this opportunity to be able to go dancing. Now we’ve just got to go take advantage of our opportunity.”
MSU’s roster is loaded with players making their March Madness debuts. Only Will McNair Jr., who reached the NCAA Tournament with coach Chris Jans last season at New Mexico State, has experience in The Big Dance.
Veterans like Jeffries, Tolu Smith, Dashawn Davis, Tyler Stevenson and Eric Reed Jr. have played their entire careers to finally showcase their skills under the microscope March Madness provides.
“It felt like a big relief off my back,” Jeffries said. “You’ve been fighting and striving since your freshman year to get here and I finally got here after three years. It’s a blessing and I’m excited. I’m just ready to get to business and go out there and play on the big stage for the first time.”
But as big an accomplishment as it is to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament, the players quickly turned their attention to the task at hand following a brief celebration.
“As I was sitting in the film room watching everybody celebrating, I could feel a sense of urgency,” said junior guard Shakeel Moore. “Our mindset is that our job is not finished.”
Mississippi State posted a 21-12 record during the regular season and overcame a horrific start to Southeastern Conference play. The Bulldogs began 1-7 in the league but were able to turn things around when they stepped out of conference to beat then No. 11 TCU in overtime as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
State went on to win six of its final nine games to close out the regular season and edged Florida in overtime during the second round of the SEC Tournament to boost their postseason resume. The Bulldogs finished with a No. 49 NET ranking with four Quadrant 1 wins to their credit.
And although MSU must still to play its way into the traditional field of 64, the Bulldogs are not only glad to have the opportunity to experience March Madness but also control their own destiny from this point forward.
“We’ve got some work to do but as long as we’re in there and as long as we’re dancing, that’s all that matters,” Smith said. “It feels like a new season. I think we’re on a different mission and I’m happy and excited for what is to come.”