STARKVILLE – (AP) Jalen Steele is often the forgotten man in Mississippi State’s offense. And that’s exactly when the sharp-shooting sophomore is most dangerous.
The Bulldogs host LSU Wednesday and if the Tigers don’t know about Steele, they should ask Vanderbilt.
Steele’s five 3-pointers – including four straight during a stunning second-half flourish on Saturday – helped No. 18 Mississippi State beat the Commodores 78-77 in overtime.
The 6-foot-3 guard’s emergence has the Bulldogs (16-4, 3-2 SEC) feeling more confident in their offense as they prepare to face LSU (12-7, 2-3).
“I’ve always said that Jalen is the one guy that does something different on this basketball team,” Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. “He is capable of doing what he did, jump up and make shots. He’s the one guy, if you ask me what his role is – it is to make shots.”
Steele is widely seen as the best spot-up shooter on the team, but he’s evolved into his role slowly. He’s averaging 7.3 points per game this season and is making 37 percent (34 of 92) of his shots from 3-point range.
He tore the ACL in his left knee late last season, and the effects still linger. Steele said he’s about “95 percent” and still wears a brace on the knee that affects his lateral movement. Stansbury said Steele has been pressing at times this season, missing shots that he’d normally make.
But when things are going well, he can change a game in a hurry.
Mississippi State was leading 51-48 with 11:14 remaining against Vanderbilt when Steele splashed home his first 3-pointer of the second half. He would hit three more 3s in the next five possessions to push the Bulldogs ahead by 10, forcing Vanderbilt to call a timeout and take the once-raucous Memorial Gym crowd out of the game.
Once the Commodores had to respect Steele’s shooting, it opened up even more opportunities in the paint for Moultrie and Sidney.
“That’s what (Steele) does, he shoots,” Hood said. “He opens everything else up for everybody else. They can’t trap as much or help as much off of Jalen as they would like to, and it opens things for Dee and the rest of the guys.”
Though Steele’s main role is to shoot from long range, he’s seen his responsibilities expand as the Bulldogs’ playing rotation has tightened. Backup point guard DeVille Smith will miss at least the next week after checking into a Jackson, Miss., hospital with what Stansbury called headaches and dizziness. It’s the second such episode Smith has had this season.
Stansbury said he might try to work sophomore Shaun Smith into the playing rotation, but the coach acknowledged the best option might be to go with a seven-man rotation. Steele is averaging nearly 22 minutes per game this season, starting 12 out of 20 games. He came off the bench against the Vanderbilt.
Whatever his role, Steele said the knee injury has actually helped him become a more complete and cerebral player.
“It feels like the game is easier now,” Steele said. “The injury kind of set me back, but now I can see the floor more. I can see what I can do and what I can’t. It’s making me slow down.”