Missouri vows not to look past struggling Mississippi St.

Trivante Bloodman of Mississippi State hits a shot during a game against LSU earlier this month in Starkville, Miss.

Trivante Bloodman of Mississippi State hits a shot during a game against LSU earlier this month in Starkville, Miss. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — A team that’s lost eight straight games and is playing with just six scholarship players might seem like an easy target for Missouri to overlook.

But the road has been a spot where Missouri hasn’t been able to overlook anybody this year.

The Tigers head to Starkville, Miss. today (7 p.m. KMIZ-TV) looking for their first road win of the season at Mississippi State.

“We’ve got to play particularly well because we haven’t had success on the road yet,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said.

While Missouri’s (17-6, 6-4 Southeastern Conference) road struggles have been well documented, Missouri hasn’t had near the issues Mississippi State has had. In fact, the Bulldogs would probably be happy to trade places with the Tigers.

A 7-15 record, a 2-8 mark in the SEC and an eight-game losing streak don’t add up to many positives. In fact, it makes Missouri’s 0-5 record on the road look minor in comparison.

Guard Jalen Steele was suspended prior to Saturday’s 83-58 loss to Florida. Three others have been lost due to injuries. That leaves Mississippi State with just eight players on the roster. That includes no scholarship seniors and two walk-ons.

Guard Fred Thomas is the only Bulldog averaging double figures, coming in at 10.5 points per game.

After starting out SEC play with wins against South Carolina and Georgia, Mississippi State has taken huge steps backward. Four of the eight losses were by more than 20 points.

The Bulldogs are expected to start three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior today and rank 12th in the SEC in scoring at 61.5 points per game.

Haith made mention of Mississippi State’s issues regarding a lack of players, but added “that’s not for us to worry about.”

Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said his team’s mental state during the losing streak has stayed fairly positive.

“Surprisingly in a pretty good state,” Ray said about his team. “I think the one thing you always concern yourself with when you coach a team is do they still compete, are they still locked in, trying to do some of the things you want them to do on and off the court.

“We have situations where we don’t play how we need to in particular stretches. But we haven’t come out in any particular game and not fought. We’re dealing with a shortened roster. We have so many guys, this is the first time they’ve ever played Division I college basketball.”

Missouri has been close to breaking through in its previous two road games, losing to Texas A&M and LSU by a combined five points. In both games Missouri had the ball with a chance to win or tie in the closing seconds but could not convert.

“That’s why this is a big game for us,” Haith said. “We’ve got to taste having some success where we win a game. I think the first step was playing well. Both those games, LSU and A&M, we easily could have won both of those games if we executed better down the stretch. So we’ve just got to have one of those for sure.”

The game is extra important for Missouri because if it happens to stumble again, it could be tough to pick up a road win the rest of the way. The Tigers remaining road games are against Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee.

“Once you get that first one, I feel like it’s all just going to fall into place,” Missouri point guard Phil Pressey said. “Right now we’re just finding all the right ways to lose a game. Once we win that one, I feel like it will all come together.”

This is the third meeting between the two schools. Mississippi State won the last game 85-75 in 2008.

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