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McNeese State head men's basketball coach Davis Simmons. (American Press Archives)

McNeese State head men's basketball coach Davis Simmons. (American Press Archives)

Cowboys open season tonight at second-ranked Michigan State

Last Modified: Thursday, November 07, 2013 9:42 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

So much for easing into a new season.

McNeese State will jump right into the college basketball fire by playing in one of the nation’s hottest spots.

The Cowboys will open play tonight at second-ranked and perennial national championship contender Michigan State.

The Big Ten-favored Spartans seem to have everything needed to make a run at another title.

“This is a great opportunity for our players and our program,” said McNeese head coach Dave Simmons. “Kids like the chance at playing against the best teams in the big buildings. And it is good exposure for the program.”

Michigan Sate has size, power, speed, experience and a head coach who has won it all before. The Cowboys have hope.

“One thing you can’t do is become in awe of your surroundings,” Simmons said. “That, of course, is easier said than done.”

Last year the Cowboys got caught checking out their surroundings when they played at North Carolina. The powerhouse Tar Heels hit McNeese early and often, jumping out to a big lead before the Cowboys settled down.

“It happened quick,” Simmons said. “We were looking at all those championship banners and they were playing basketball. Once we got comfortable with everything we played pretty well.”

Simmons said he hopes the lessons learned at North Carolina will help tonight at Michigan State.

“We know what to expect going in now,” Simmons said. “The place will be loud and wild. We will have to go about our business.”

For Kevin Hardy, a junior guard, this is one of those games he looks forward to most.

“You want to play against the best, to test how good you are,” he said. “And playing in front of that crowd is unbelievable. It is something you will always remember.

“It gets you going.”

It’s expected to be business as usual for the Spartans, who finished last season 27-9 before getting knocked out by Duke in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

“There are always loaded,” Simmons said. “This team is no different. They have a bunch of guys who are going to be playing in the pros one day.”

Senior point guard Keith Appling will lead the way for the Spartans. He averaged 13.4 points and 3.3 assists per game last year.

But it is on the defensive end and on the boards where the Spartans are at their best.

“They really make you work for every shot on every possession,” Simmons said. “We also can’t let them rebound every one of their shots. That will be our biggest challenge, keeping them from getting all the boards.”

McNeese will go to battle without their biggest of guns. Junior center Desharick Guidry, who led the Cowboys last year with 12.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, will miss the first few games for academic reasons.

“This is a game where we could really use him,” Simmons said.

That will put a lot on the shoulders Hardy, a St. Louis Catholic product who averaged 9.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists last year as a sophomore.

“We know we are the underdogs,” said Hardy. “We learned a lot from playing at North Carolina last year. We know what to expect.”

The Cowboys will have plenty of chances to find out how good they are. Their schedule is top heavy with big names before Southland Conference play begins.

“We are going to get tested,” Simmons said.

That testing process begins tonight.

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