Mississippi State had a rough go of it in Fayetteville last night. First, the Bulldogs lost to Arkansas, 96-70, committing a season-high 29 turnovers. Then, mechanical issues with the team plane kept them in town until early this morning. The Bulldogs finally landed in Mississippi around 7:30 a.m.
MSU (7-10, 2-3 SEC) has dropped three consecutive games now. It’s been no secret what’s ailing Rick Ray‘s squad: turnovers, fouls, lack of an inside game, fatigue – all of it the product of a thin, inexperienced roster. There are perfectly good reasons for why State is struggling, but that’s of no consolation to Ray.
“Arkansas does a great job pressing, but I thought most of our turnovers were the result of us – unforced turnovers and not due to the press,” Ray said after the game. “That’s the thing that’s so concerning to me. I just thought we didn’t make simple basketball plays.”
Just as in the losses to Tennessee and Alabama, MSU kept things close early, and then Arkansas got a little separation going into halftime. In the second half, the doors fell off for State. The turnovers mounted, and the easy buckets kept coming for Arkansas, which scored 42 points off the 29 turnovers. Freshman guard Craig Sword had nine of the turnovers; he leads the team in that category. At least he didn’t foul out this time, although Colin Borchert did. Fouls became an issue early on for the Bulldogs.
On a positive note, Gavin Ware finally got going in the paint again. After scoring 16 total points over his first four SEC games, the 6-foot-9 freshman had 11 last night, making 7 of 8 free throws. He was 0 of 3 on free throws in league games coming in. And freshman Fred Thomas continued his hot shooting, making 6 of 12 shots (2 of 5 from 3-point range) en route to a 17-point effort.
Here’s a stat that stands out: MSU had just 11 assists on its 22 made field goals, while Arkansas had 27 assists on 33 field goals.
“They did a good job of cutting off the ball, and I think they got into the lane way too much against our set defense,” Ray said. “That was the biggest problem for us. They got a lot of paint touches when we did get a chance to get our defense set.”
Up next for MSU is a three-game homestand starting Saturday, when No. 8 Florida comes in for a 7 p.m. tipoff. After that, it’s Texas A&M and LSU.