by Matt Dunaway, Associate Director/Communications
STARKVILLE – No. 22 Mississippi State heads into the home stretch of its non-conference slate and will start the first of five straight games versus teams who earned postseason berths last season.
The Bulldogs take on Clemson, a 2018 NCAA Sweet 16 participant, as part of the Never Forget Tribute Classic in Newark, New Jersey on Saturday. Tip time is scheduled for 3 p.m. CT. The game will be televised by ESPN2 and available online courtesy of the WatchESPN app. Jon Sciambi and Chris Spatola will serve as the announcing team.
Mississippi State's next five opponents piled up a combined 126 wins during the 2017-18 season. The Tigers (6-2) are receiving votes in the Associated Press and USA Today/Coaches Top 25 polls.
Visit www.HailState.com for the latest news and information on the men's basketball program. Fans also can follow the program on its social media outlets by searching 'HailStateMBK' on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Head coach Ben Howland and Aric Holman met with the media after Thursday's practice. Below is a transcript of the session.
Mississippi State Men's Basketball Media Session
December 6, 2018 – Humphrey Coliseum
Head Coach Ben Howland
BH: "Well, we've got obviously a very tough opponent in Clemson coming up in Saturday… We had practice today, and it was a tough practice from the standpoint of all of these guys spent all day yesterday doing all of their work trying to get everything in. Right now is a tough time for students because they're really involved in their studies, staying up late and getting ready for tests. All of those kids on our team today a bunch of them have multiple tutoring appointments that start at 3 p.m. today and go all day. Hopefully, we can get enough rest tomorrow night to be at our best."
Q: Clemson's obviously got a pretty good team this year? What stands out about them?
BH: "They have good guard play, and they've got really good bigs with a lot of depth inside. Their two centers (Elijah) Thomas and (Javan) White are really good, skilled scorers. Their guards are outstanding, their two leading scorers, the two players who take the most shots. But they've got size, they're big, their four man, (Aamir) Simms is a big, athletic kid. Their three man, (David) Skara, he starts at the three moves to the four. They have size like (Clyde) Trapp coming off the bench at the wing is a very good shooter and scores. They've got a bunch of players. They've got experience having been to the Sweet 16 a year ago, that really helps them. You can see just their presence, and they're well-coached."
Q: How do the guys embrace a non-conference schedule where almost every game is a big game?
BH: "We need to embrace it, and I think they do and its fun for them. I told them that the rest of our non-conference is incredibly difficult starting with Clemson. Clemson, they all know, is good. They all know they were in the top 25 to start the season. They'll be back in it before the season's over. They'll be a NCAA Tournament team, and this is a big challenge."
Q: Is this team more prepared to win neutral site games than they have been in a while?
BH: "Yeah, I would think. I don't know if the neutral site part plays into it as much as just it's against a good team. They're good, and we're both having to travel all the way up to New Jersey to play the game. It's for a great cause. They're using this game to raise money -- you never forget, for all the people involved in 9/11, especially a lot of the people who were firemen. They end up cleaning all that mess up. There's carcinogens and everything, and they end up dying because of the cleanup effort. These poor kids are left fatherless. So, it's really – it's a good thing. I appreciate that. It's a nationally-televised event so it's good exposure for our program. It's a big-time arena, the Prudential Center, is big-time."
Q: Are you pleased with the rotation, the amount of minutes everyone is getting, in particular, with Reggie Perry, with how well he's playing?
BH: "He played 18 minutes in the last game and he's had some allergies he's starting to get dealt with here since we got back from (Las Vegas). I think his stamina and wind is really improving. His minutes are definitely increasing… He was dragging today because he was studying all night. It's like 'Reggie, what's going on?' He says, ' Coach, I've got tutoring that goes forever today.' He's tutoring the whole day now. A freshman in college, first semester, it's no joke."
Q: Do you have any personal ties what happened on 9/11?
BH: "I was in Pittsburgh, the head coach of the University of Pittsburgh, when the attack occurred. I'll never forget it. When we were up there in the northeast, I had a lot of people in our program – notably my starting point guard Brandon Knight who was first team All-American … Thirteen of his fellow classmates died, people who went to his school, died in the attack."
"But I remember also there were no airplanes. Nothing was in the air. You had fighter jets, and it was eerie. I remember driving in New York City two days later, recruiting – the smell and the stench from those collapsed twin towers that went down was just unbelievable. It was a terrible time for our country at that time so I remember it vividly. To hear about all the people who were affected by it in terms of the cleanup, the firemen, all of the different people who were first responders. A lot of those people got sick and were affected by it in a bad way."
Forward Aric Holman
Q: How do you think this team is more prepared to play away from home after winning a couple on the road in the NIT last season and going to (Las Vegas) a couple of weeks ago?
AH: "I would say we are much more prepared because we have experience now. We have a lot of older guys, even including Lamar (Peters), juniors, that have been in these situations. We can all feed off each other and adapt to the situation and also help out the young guys and get them ready for it."
Q: Has it been different for you guys to play a tough non-conference schedule? Does that amp up the intensity of these early months?
AH: "It makes us be more prepared and more focused. We always take it one day at a time. We also know where we want to get to at the end of the year so we have to put that pressure on us right now to get there"
Q: What does it mean for you to play for a cause like 9/11 this weekend?
AH: "It's a great way for us to be able to play the game that we love and also give back. To hang out with families and kids that have been through a lot. For us to be in this opportunity, I'm thankful."