Mississippi State basketball vs Georgia: Scouting report, score prediction

Andy Kostka
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

STARKVILLE — For the first half Saturday against Ole Miss, Mississippi State basketball guard Iverson Molinar and coach Ben Howland pinpointed the same issue: The Bulldogs weren’t as tough as the Rebels, leading to that 14-point halftime deficit.

While the second half was an improvement for Mississippi State, the hole had already been dug too deep to complete a comeback. Without forward Tolu Smith, the task was complicated. And without an ability to break out in transition, the Bulldogs couldn’t counteract that lack of size down low.

Mississippi State (10-4, 1-1 SEC) has a prime chance to rebound from the 82-72 loss, however, when Georgia (5-10, 0-2) visits the Humphrey Coliseum on Wednesday (6 p.m., SEC Network). Georgia enters on a four-game losing streak, including defeats against Gardner-Webb and East Tennessee State.

ANALYSIS:Why Mississippi State basketball couldn't push the pace in transition against Ole Miss

FINAL:How Mississippi State basketball, without Tolu Smith, doomed itself against Ole Miss on Saturday

Here’s a scouting report and prediction for the game between Georgia and Mississippi State.

Is Tolu Smith needed?

The absence of Smith against Ole Miss was all-too apparent.

The 6-foot-11 forward has been limited this season, playing just five games — he missed the start of the season due to a stress fracture in his foot and a fractured pinky toe held him out longer. Saturday’s absence for non-disciplinary reasons shouldn’t last as long. But in those five games, Smith averaged 14.2 points and 7.8 rebounds.

Perhaps bigger than those points is the attention he attracts from defenses. Molinar said Smith is one of the best passing big men in the country. When teams collapse on him at the post, his dishes open opportunities for teammates to score, a missing quality in a Mississippi State offense that looked stagnant for stretches Saturday.

Howland said he planned to have Smith return to practice Monday, putting him in line to play against Georgia. Smith’s potential return is key, giving Mississippi State a capable defender against Georgia’s Braelen Bridges, a 6-11 forward averaging 12.6 points.

Jan 8, 2022; Oxford, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi Rebels forward Jaemyn Brakefield (4) looks for an open lane as Mississippi State Bulldogs guard/forward Cameron Matthews (4) defends during the first half at The Sandy and John Black Pavilion at Ole Miss. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia’s skid

Georgia wasn’t expected to compete with the best of the SEC this season; in the preseason media poll, Georgia came in last.

But the task became harder for the Bulldogs once senior forward P.J. Horne — the only returning starter — suffered a season-ending knee injury before the season began. And there was another blow when Jailyn Ingram, a 6-7 forward sustained a season-ending knee injury in December.

Without two key pieces of the starting rotation, Georgia has stumbled. Ingram, who averaged 10.7 points and six rebounds in nine games, got injured in a win against Jacksonville on Dec. 7. The Bulldogs lost five of their next six games, with defeats coming against George Mason, Gardner-Webb, East Tennessee State, Texas A&M and Kentucky.

Georgia hasn’t been able to replace the production expected from Ingram and Horne.

Guarding the perimeter

Mississippi State was on the wrong side of a career performance Saturday. Matthew Murrell poured on 31 points, making all five of his 3-point attempts, to lead Ole Miss. Before Saturday, Murrell averaged 7.9 points.

For Georgia to have a chance Wednesday, the Bulldogs will need a player to put together an impressive performance beyond the arc, and Noah Baumann could be a contender for that. The 6-6 wing is shooting a team-high 47.5% from 3-point range, and he’s shooting 22-for-40 across his last six games.

Howland said his assistant coaches noticed Murrell was hot during warmups, but he didn’t switch D.J. Jeffries onto Murrell until the second half — a change that came too late to make much of a difference. If Howland’s assistants notice a hot hand from Georgia, though, Jeffries could draw that assignment earlier.


Mississippi State 80, Georgia 68: Georgia’s losing streak doesn’t seem likely to come to an end Wednesday. Before a lackluster performance against Ole Miss, Mississippi State was playing well, dispatching Arkansas to open SEC play.

But a 10-day break between games might’ve messed with that rhythm, as well as the absence of Smith. Should Smith be unable to return Wednesday, even, Mississippi State should handle Georgia.