While the first season of the Rick Ray era at Mississippi State was expected to be a tough one given the players who decided to leave the program at the end of last year, it’s difficult to think that anyone envisioned this kind of start for the Bulldogs.
First there were the season-ending knee injuries to freshman guards Jacoby Davis and Andre Applewhite, robbing a team already thin in the backcourt of two newcomers Ray hoped would be able to contribute.
And Tuesday’s 78-58 victory over Florida Atlantic became one of the Pyrrhic variety as junior Jalen Steele was lost for six weeks with a fractured left wrist suffered just before the midway point of the first half on a layup attempt.
The left side of Steele’s head hit the court after Dragan Sekelja palmed Steele’s layup try on the backboard with 10:40 left in the first half. Trainers spent roughly five minutes observing Steele before the woozy junior waved off a stretcher and walked to the locker room with the help of the trainers. He was taken to a local hospital for further observation after a trainer sealed a cut on the left side of his head with eight stitches, an MSU spokesman said.
Steele, who started 16 of the Bulldogs’ 33 games last season, was Mississippi State’s most experienced returnee entering the season and scored 16 points in their season-opening loss at Troy.
Luckily for the Bulldogs the injury won’t require surgery, and estimates project his return to the lineup to come just before the start of SEC play.
“I feel for Jalen because he put in a great deal of work in the offseason so that he could take advantage of the opportunity that was present for him this season,” MSU coach Rick Ray said in a statement released by the school. “I know with Jalen’s work ethic that he will attack his rehab and be ready to come back and help this team when that time comes.”
But that wasn’t the only bad news the program announced on Wednesday, as 6-8 junior forward Colin Borchert was suspended for a violation of team rules.
The East Mississippi CC transfer started both games this season for the 1-1 Bulldogs, averaging 5.0 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest.
Steele’s injury and the suspension of Borchert drops Mississippi State down to six healthy scholarship players ahead of their trip to the Maui Invitational next week, where their first opponent is No. 11 North Carolina.
Just about anything that could go wrong for Ray in his first Division I head coaching stint has gone wrong, setting the Bulldogs up for what could be a rough three days in Maui.
Photo credit: Mississippi State University
Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.