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Mississippi State aims to build on momentum vs. Akron

Sportsnaut
Oct 19, 2022; Birmingham, Alabama, US; Mississippi State Bulldogs forward D.J. Jefferies during the SEC Basketball Media Days at Grand Bohemian Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State is off to a successful and raucous start to the season.

The Bulldogs (1-0) look to make further strides when they host Akron on Friday in Starkville, Miss.

Mississippi State used stout defense and 19 points and 11 rebounds from Tolu Smith to roll past Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 63-44 in its season opener on Monday.

Shakeel Moore added 11 points for the Bulldogs to make a winner out of coach Chris Jans in his first game at the helm.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Jans said. “Fortunately for us, we’re not close to where we could be, and we still won by 19. That’s a good sign for an opener.”

After trailing by as many as a dozen points in the first half, Mississippi State rallied, got back in the game and then put the clamps down on A&M-CC, the preseason favorite to win the Southland Conference. The Bulldogs allowed just 14 points in the second half and limited the Islanders to only 21.0 percent shooting after halftime.

“That’s why we rely on our defense, our rebounding and our energy,” Jans said. “There will be nights we’ll struggle. Everyone in the country will. When we do, we have to rely on our defense to get us through the rough patches. That’s what we did, especially in the second half.”

Akron (1-0) carries plenty of momentum into Friday’s dustup as well after an 81-80 overtime win at home over South Dakota State in its season opener. Greg Tribble canned the game-winning free throw with 2.4 seconds left in the extra period to lift the Zips to the victory on Monday.

Xavier Castaneda led Akron with a career-high 31 points that included an 8-of-12 showing from 3-point range. Enrique Freeman added 23 points and 14 rebounds and Trendon Hankerson scored 11 points in the win.

“We got a long way to go and I knew that going into (Monday’s game),” Akron coach John Groce said. “I knew the game could go either way and that we could play pretty good and still get beat. We’ve got to solidify a little bit deeper rotation. We’ve got to make less mistakes defensively. We’ve got to get better ball movement.”

The Zips, who played in the NCAA Tournament last season, were picked in the Mid-American Conference’s preseason poll to finish third in the league.

–Field Level Media