EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. Marcus Bullard may look back later this week and bask in all the great things Mississippi State’s basketball team accomplished this season.
But Saturday night in the bowels of the Meadowlands Arena, Bullard sat quietly outside the Mississippi State dressing room looking down at the gray floor and blaming himself for the Bulldogs’ 77-69 loss to Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament semifinals.
The fact that Mississippi State won an SEC Tournament championship didn’t matter.
The fact that Mississippi State had won the SEC Western Division outright didn’t matter.
The fact that Mississippi State had swept through the postseason like a spring tornado, reaching the Final Four for the first time in the program’s history, didn’t matter.
The fact that Mississippi State is not playing Monday night for the national championship mattered. It was ripping Bullard’s heart out that his team’s season and come to such an abrupt ending.
“It’s hard for us to lose this one because we were in position to be the champs,” he said. “I’ll be thinking about this game a long time. It’s a hard one for me. If I had done better my team would have won the game.
“I’m disappointed the country didn’t get to see the real Mississippi State team play today.”
The Bulldogs’ sophomore point guard was obviously hurting. The fact that he committed nine of his team’s 21 turnovers against the brutes from the Big East added to his woes.
“If you’re going to blame somebody then blame me,” Bullard said. “I failed to make the right decisions with the ball.”
Bullard said Syracuse’s 2-3 zone had nothing to do with the turnovers he made.
“I just made poor decisions in transition,” he said.
The Bulldogs made 13 turnovers in the first half five were Bullard’s and the Orangemen converted them into 14 points to earn a 36-36 halftime tie. Mississippi State made just eight turnovers in the second half, but Syracuse was able to get 11 points off the miscues.
By comparison, Mississippi State scored just five points off five Syracuse turnovers.
“I think all of us would agree that the turnovers were the key to the game,” MSU coach Richard Williams said. “We turned it over entirely too many times to give ourselves the opportunity to win the game.”
Mississippi State senior forward Russell Walters said Bullard shouldn’t shoulder all the the blame for the team’s loss.
“If it wasn’t for Marcus Bullard we wouldn’t be here,” Walters said. “He showed leadership during the season. He stepped it up. He’s a winner. He took it really hard.”
Said Bullard, managing to crack a weak smile: “I picked a bad day to have a bad day.”
But it wasn’t a bad season, Marcus. I think you know that.
Gene Phelps is sports editor for the Daily Journal.