By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
NASHVILLE – Craig Sword did all he could to bring Mississippi State back on Thursday.
The freshman guard scored 13 points in the second half as the Bulldogs cut Tennessee’s 16-point halftime lead to nine points, but it wasn’t enough in the 69-53 SEC Tournament loss. Sword said his surge was actually a product of focusing on defense.
“Well, really I was coming out (the second half) to play defense,” he said. “But the offense came to me, so I just took it as the game came to me.”
He scored eight points within the first seven minutes of the second half. For the game, Sword scored 19 points on 9-of-17 shooting, and he also had four steals and two assists.
Coach Rick Ray praised the maturation of Sword over the course of the season.
“At some point in time, we couldn’t even get him to dribble the ball up court because he would turn it over all the time,” Ray said.
“Now we see his turnovers are starting to reduce, and he’s starting to go make more plays, not just for himself but also for others.”
After scoring a career-high 21 points versus South Carolina the night before, freshman Fred Thomas was held to eight points on 3-of-11 shooting. He missed all three of his 3-point attempts.
“It really wasn’t nothing (Tennessee) was doing,” he said. “I was trying to set screens and get my teammates open.”
Player of the game
Sword, an SEC all-freshman selection, played solid defense throughout the game, and what he showed offensively is something State hopes to see more of next season.
“It was very frustrating, just right at the rim, we couldn’t finish (shots). It just hurt us in the long run.” – MSU center Gavin Ware