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Marlar: Take a Breath, Bulldogs Fans

It's a long season, and it always has been.

After MSU's brutal 80-72 loss to Florida on the road, many people are asking just what exactly is going on? This is arguably the most talented team head coach Ben Howland has had in his tenure with the program, by far the deepest and yet still, they sit at 12-5 at this point in the season, with even tougher matchups to come. So, do fans have reason to panic? Maybe so, but think about this first. 

Flash back to January 24, 1996, when the Mississippi State men's basketball team dropped their second consecutive road game to the then unranked South Carolina Gamecocks 77-69, dropping them to an 11-5 record overall before they went on to finish the regular season 19-7. This was the final loss of a stretch in January in which the Bulldogs went 1-4 in SEC play. That same team, as most Bulldog fans know, went on to win the SEC Tournament and advance to the Final Four, the furthest any MSU men's team has ever made it. 

The thing with college basketball is it's a marathon, not a sprint. In today's game, obviously Q1 wins matter, along with NET rankings and more, but the essence of the game is still the same - win late, and you'll do well. This season is by no means over after a loss to a Q1 team, especially when this Bulldog squad has a win over Arkansas and Alabama, which both may wind up being Q1 before the season is over. 

With all of that being said, you want to win every game, but in college basketball, that's just not a reality. If fans want to make the comparison to the '96 squad, compare the entire season, not just where they ended up. That run by a very special team meant something to the Mississippi basketball community that nothing has since come close to on the men's side of things, and everyone - including the players - knew it. Indianola native and Bulldog alum Tyrone Washington said it best in an interview with The Washington Post in December of '96, after MSU returned a depleted roster from that magical season.

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"Everywhere you go," said Washington, "there may not be signs but (the Final Four) is something that Mississippians will never forget. Everybody knows. I go to the store and there are little kids who I didn't even know knew what a basketball was saying 'You're Tyrone Washington - you played in the Final Four!'... a sign can't mean as much as it does in your heart."

If the team is to ever make it back to that special place atop the basketball world, it cannot do it with its fanbase wavering over a loss in January - a loss that directly followed the toppling of a top 25 team, no less. It's not the end of the world, Bulldog fans. Let's all take a breath, step back, and let the chips fall where they may. It's a long season, and there's a home game Saturday against a certain other school from Mississippi, so there's at least one thing we can all agree upon. Pack the Hump, beat Ole Miss and worry about the following contest after that one is all said and done.