GAME NOTES: The Mississippi State Bulldogs will try to solve their road woes tonight when they visit Gentile Arena for a non-league clash with the Loyola- Chicago Ramblers.
Mississippi State is 3-0 at home but has dropped all five of its matchups outside of Starkville. Still, two of the Bulldogs' victories have come over their past three games, including a 53-42 home win over Texas-San Antonio last Tuesday. After this weekend, the Bulldogs won't leave the state of Mississippi again until a Jan. 12 tilt at Georgia.
Loyola enters the contest looking to notch a fifth win in its last six outings, and another victory here would already match last season's total. Last time out however, the Ramblers had a four-game win streak halted in a 73-61 setback at No. 19 Michigan State. After a busy early-season schedule, they'll take the court only five times in the month of December, with each of those games spaced a week apart. Loyola has not defeated a BCS conference team at Gentile Arena since topping Big Ten school Purdue during the 2005-06 season.
Loyola won the only prior meeting between these schools, notching a 61-51 win over the Bulldogs in the 1963 NCAA Regional Semifinals. The Ramblers would go on to capture the national title that season.
The Bulldogs struggled offensively against UTSA, but they made up for it with a staunch defensive effort to earn the victory. MSU held the Roadrunners to 27-percent shooting and forced 20 turnovers for the game. The Bulldogs blocked a season-high seven shots to go along with nine steals. Wendell Lewis provided a much needed spark off the bench, finishing with a game-high 20 points behind an 8-of-9 shooting effort from the floor. Craig Sword also reached double figures with 13 points, although his six turnovers were a team-high. Lewis, a senior center, has averaged 18.0 points and 8.0 rebounds over the last two games, giving first-year coach Rick Ray a solid option off the pine. As a team, MSU is shooting just 39 percent from the floor and 23 percent from beyond the arc, while averaging 18.3 turnovers per tilt. Roquez Johnson (13.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Fred Thomas (11.1 ppg) lead the team in scoring.
Loyola is led by senior forward Ben Averkamp and his 17.4 ppg. Averkamp is shooting a healthy 50.5 percent from the floor and is pulling down a team-best 6.8 boards per contest. However, Averkamp has more than doubled the scoring output of second-leading scorer Jordan Hicks (7.6 ppg), and that lack of scoring balance is bound to catch up with the Ramblers at some point. Still, they must be respected from beyond the arc, as Averkamp, Hicks and Devon Turk (7.2 ppg) have combined to knock down 40 3-pointers at an impressive 47- percent success rate. Averkamp led all scorers with 25 points at Michigan State, but he was the lone starter in double figures for the Ramblers, and the Spartans were able to pull away late. The Ramblers will be happy to return home to Gentile Arena, where they have held opponents to 54.8 ppg and 38- percent shooting from the floor through four games this season.
Loyola has won 19 of its last 21 home games against non-conference foes, although Mississippi State is the first SEC squad to visit Gentile Arena in nearly three decades. Points could be at a premium between these two squads, but look for Loyola to get back into the win column playing in front of its home crowd.
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