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March 10, 2016

Ben Howland

Craig Sword

Fred Thomas

Nashville, Tennessee

Georgia - 79, Mississippi State - 69

THE MODERATOR: We're ready to continue on with Mississippi State.

COACH HOWLAND: I thought we got off to a good start tonight. I mean, the first ten-minute stanza or maybe eight-minute stanza, and when we got our starters out and subbed, they started to score on us. Again, the first half, you have to give them credit. They really did a great job of scoring. We held them to the game of 43 percent. Much better job in the second half than the first half.

I thought their two best players were terrific. Both of their those guys are terrific players, Maten and Frazier, and they were terrific tonight. Any time you make a mistake with those two, they take advantage of it.

And I was really proud of our comeback, again, the way our guys fight and never quit and never give up. The press really bothered them. We had a chance down four, I mean, with a lot of time left. And had a steal and got a turnover, having a steal down four. So a lot of mishaps there. And we struggled.

Gavin did not have a good night offensively, and that is a problem for us because he's our best low post scorer. I thought he got sped up.

And I thought that Fred had one of his best games of the year. These two seniors both really stepped up tonight and did a great job for us, leading the comeback and giving us a chance to where we had a chance to win in the last seven, eight minutes, but a play here and a play there.

But Georgia's a very good team, and we wish them the best of luck moving forward against South Carolina. That will be a great game.

Q. You're down 16 in the second half. What happened to get you all back in the game in the second half?
CRAIG SWORD: We all stayed together. We came in the huddle and said we need to get stops. And everybody just looked at each other was like, okay, we got to leave it all on the floor.

Q. Fred, how did it feel to end your career with a game like this? Obviously, it wasn't the outcome you wanted, but to play 17 points off the bench and having not played in the SEC Tournament last year?
FRED THOMAS: I just wanted to be that guy I've been all year, just provide energy for the team some kind of way, and know what I was able to do tonight. My teammates, they found me, open looks, and I was able to knock down shots.

I just wanted to be that guy to spark the team up so we could get it going.

Q. Now that your career is kind of complete, just talk about the foundation you've laid for the future of this program.
CRAIG SWORD: I think I put a good start to what they're going to be doing this year. Well, for the future, we've got some hard working players coming in, and we've got some guys from this year. So it looks good for Mississippi State in the coming years.

Q. Ben, kind of big picture, what do you think you can draw out of how the season has gone to carry into next year?
COACH HOWLAND: I think, number one, we establish how we're going to play. We're going to play aggressive, man-to-man defense, really try to be help conscious, try to be tough. I was proud that we outboarded them tonight. This is the second leading team in terms of rebound margin in conference games, is Georgia.

We have to take from this year to never quit, never give up. We're down 17 with 14 minutes to go against Vanderbilt and come back and find a way to win. We've done that a number of times this year where we've fallen behind, but we never quit, never give up, and give ourselves a chance. That bulldog mentality of never giving up, never quitting, always fighting is really an important thing that we established this year in this program moving forward.

And I think, for our players that return, I think they've learned the kind of attention to detail and how hard of work it is to be good and to win games in this conference, and I think that it's really important that that leadership mantel be carried on and these guys become positive, good leaders for the young group we have.

We'll have eight or nine new players that didn't play in our program this year next year. So it will be a big turnover year. We'll be beginning anew, but I think we have a foundation set of how hard we're going to work, how hard we're going to play, and having a really positive attitude.

The other thing I really like about this team this year is the unselfishness we ingrained in them every day. A year ago, our program averaged eight assists a game against 15 turnovers. So we had a huge jump in that area of sharing the ball. When you go look at the team stats in the conference, we improve dramatically in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio, amount of assists per game, more assists than turnovers on the season, and in conference play.

And those are all important things. Playing unselfishly and playing as a team and as a unit and being together.

Q. Two tough games for Gavin against Georgia this year. What were they doing to kind of keep him off his game?
COACH HOWLAND: Being physical. I think the physicality that they're playing behind, really slamming him from behind with the arm bar, got him sped up. Even the last layup he missed, all he had to do was slow down and shot fake. Like you see tonight, he did not attempt a foul shot. That's not good. He needs to be getting aligned by going to the basket. He had a shot late in the game where it's a four-point game, where he was falling away.

So this is a lesson. Gavin is going to play for a long time. Gavin has a bright future beyond Mississippi State now to be able to play basketball and make a nice living for himself and establish a nice nest egg for him when his career is over playing, and I want to help him do that in every way. So this is always a learning thing.

I'll meet with him a week from Monday and talk about what he has to do moving forward. The biggest thing is just staying in great condition.

Q. When you have those player meetings, when you meet with Malik, kind of what's the next few weeks going to be like for him? And how do you help him make the decision he has to make?
COACH HOWLAND: Well, I think this next week is spring break. So they're going home. They're going to rest. He'll meet with his family, his father primarily, discuss what he wants to do moving forward. If he elects to put his name in and go through the process, we're going to support him 100 percent. And then if he goes through that process and elects that he wants to come back, we're going to welcome him.

I mean, he's going to be a really good player. This was a tough year relative to the expectations that were heaped upon him, but in reality, he had a really solid freshman campaign, and he's going to be a lot better for it having gone through it now. And I think he'll have -- the biggest year of improvement that a player makes in his career generally is between their freshman and sophomore year, because it's a totally different thing going from high school to high major college basketball, especially when you have a bull's eye right on your chest every time you step on the floor.

And he had some really good moments this year where he really, really played well. So he's got a lot of things that he can get better at and improve, and I think he has a very bright future moving forward.

Q. I guess kind of a followup to that. What do you think he should do? Is he ready, or does he need to come back?
COACH HOWLAND: That's something that we'll discuss privately. That's not something that I'm going to discuss with the media at this time, in fairness to him and his family.

The plan was that whatever his decision was, it would be their family. If they asked for my input, obviously, I'll give that to him. But right now, it's time for him to step back and rest for a few days and for them to look at the big picture.

But we'll be supportive of him whatever they decide to do. You've got to remember now, he could have gone anywhere in the country. He chose to stay home, be a Bulldog, follow in his father's footsteps. If it weren't for Malik Newman, I don't know that we would have had one of the top ten recruiting classes in the country. I think he really was a huge part of that. Kids love him.

So we're going to be very supportive of him. Selfishly, would I love to have him back? 100 percent. But that's going to be their decision, and we'll support it either way.

Q. The team that you do have coming back, all the freshmen, it's a very young group. Do you look to maybe add a grad transfer or two to kind of add some experience?
COACH HOWLAND: Yeah, we're looking at all sorts of options, but you've got to look at us right now. We had another commitment from a kid whose name I can't name. We have already a freshman class of seven new players and a kid that was sitting out who I think is going to be really good in Xavian Stapleton.

So if we add another kid, he would almost have to be a fifth year transfer in my mind right now. Because we'll have another class behind this class and hopefully three guys in that next class. So that would be the plan.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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