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Mississippi State men’s basketball tips off season at home against North Alabama

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. CT.

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

STARKVILLE, Miss. — The Mississippi State men’s basketball team will begin the 2021-22 season on Wednesday as it hosts North Alabama at 7 pm. CT at Humphrey Coliseum. The contest can be streamed on SEC Network+.

The Bulldogs finished the 2020-21 season with an 18-15 record, including an 8-10 record in Southeastern Conference play. MSU’s season ended with a 77-64 loss to Memphis in the National Invitation Tournament championship game.

Head coach Ben Howland is entering his seventh season with the Bulldogs and will be led by a pair of top returners in junior guard Iverson Molinar and redshirt junior forward Tolu Smith.

Molinar was a preseason first-team All-SEC selection and earned a spot on the Wooden Award watch list. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound guard enters the season with 684 points and 109 assists in 61 career games. He has scored 10-plus points in 31 games and MSU is 8-1 when he scores 20-plus points.

Molinar averaged 16.7 points per game in 30 games last year to go with 3.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists. His seven games of 20-plus points were tied for seventh in the SEC.

Smith, who is the defending SEC rebounding champion, will be sidelined until late November following foot surgery. The 6-foot-11, 245-pounder averaged 12.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season. He led the SEC with eight double-doubles.

MSU also added a quartet of transfers in forward Garrison Brooks from North Carolina, forward D.J. Jeffries from Memphis, guard Shakeel Moore from North Carolina State and guard Rocket Watts from Michigan State. The four transfers amassed 2,388 total points at their previous schools. Watts, however, is also sidelined until mid-November following surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip.

The Lions are entering their fourth season as members of the Atlantic Sun Conference at the Division I level and are coming off a 13-11 season, which marked their first winning season at the Division I level.

North Alabama ended the 2020-21 season with a 79-75 loss to Liberty in the A-Sun championship game.

North Alabama’s top returners are junior guard Jamari Blackmon and graduate student forward Payton Youngblood, who both averaged 10.1 points per game last year.

The Bulldogs and Lions are meeting for the fourth time on the hardwood. MSU has won the previous three meetings, most recently a 102-61 win during the 2008-09 season.