74-71. That was the score of yesterday's Mississippi State - Auburn basketball game, a game that MSU won. The win pushed MSU to 9-21, 4-14 in the SEC on the season. Certainly not one of the best seasons in MSU history. BUT, what the win did do for coach Rick Ray's team was move them out of last place in the SEC. That status now belongs to the game's loser, Auburn.
So, after a season that could easily be described as a nightmare -- filled with attrition, season-ending injuries, suspensions, and losses galore -- Rick Ray and the small roster of MSU basketball
players warriors emerged from the flames NOT in last place in the conference. The significance of that fact may be lost on those with a national perspective, but it was not lost on Ray and MSU fans.
So it's quite understandable that after the game, Rick Ray was a happy man. A tumultuous regular season was over, and MSU had defied, if only just slightly, the odds and expectations of a nation's worth of writers, bloggers and basketball enthusiasts. After the game, Ray took to Twitter to share his thoughts on the accomplishment:
Food for thought. It's kind of hard to be the worst team EVER in SEC history when you don't even finish last this season. Just saying.— Rick Ray (@RickRay1) March 10, 2013
It's also important to note that Ray's tweet was also an indirect reply to Eamonn Brennan -- an ESPN writer who earlier in the season labeled MSU as the worst team in SEC history. Ray had a point -- how can you be the worst team in SEC history if you weren't even the worst team in 2013? The tweet seemed to most to be a harmless jab at State's critics this year -- hardly worthy of the backlash that was to come from one writer.
Shortly after Ray's tweet, Commercial Appeal writer Ron Higgins responded seemingly out of nowhere with this jab back at Ray:
@rickray1 @davidbrandtap Food for thought. With a three-point line and a shot clock, your team Rick scored 36 points and 31 points in losses— Ron Higgins (@RonHigg) March 10, 2013
Seriously? What had Ray said that offended Higgins enough for him to respond with such harsh criticism about State's 2013 season? The tweet was completely out of left field from Higgins, and angered many MSU fans who questioned its necessity,
As I thought more this morning about the reply by Higgins, I kept coming back to the question why. Why did Higgins feel the need to reply to Ray so publicly and in such a harsh way? Rick Ray just finished a season that was 10,000x tougher than expected, and it was expected to be tough. He tweeted about the accomplishment that his team had just completed, which by my account, was a big one. He wasn't a coach who'd just won his 30th game of the season and bragging about it. He didn't taunt Higgins. He didn't taunt anyone, really. So why did Higgins reply to him in such a way?
There really is no answer. Higgins lashing out at coach Ray was uncalled for, along with unprofessional. Unless Rick Ray beat up Higgins in a bar one night and we just don't know about it, then there is no excuse for it. Is he an Ole Miss fan? Whether he is or not, it wouldn't matter. Is he an Auburn fan? Who cares. First and foremost, Ron Higgins is a writer -- a writer who uses his Twitter account for his job. This type of lashing out against Ray makes Higgins seem more like a homer and an angry fan than a professional who writes for a living. It's one thing to defend yourself against trolls or angry fans on Twitter, but to reply out of nowhere to a coach who's pumped to win his 9th game of the year is absurd.
Most likely, nothing will happen to Higgins, and that's fine. No retaliation is needed. Rick Ray had a little fun and jabbed back at Higgins this morning, but I thought it was in good taste. That leaves Higgins even more out on the ledge and in the wrong.
The jerk store called Ron, and they said they're running out of you.
Ron Higgins can be reached on Twitter @RonHigg.