By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State’s defense finally made an appearance three days ago. The Bulldogs hope it sticks around.
MSU (7-12, 2-5 SEC) looks to snap a five-game losing streak when LSU (11-7, 2-5) visits Humphrey Coliseum at 4:30 p.m. today. Rick Ray’s team is coming off a 55-49 overtime loss to Texas A&M.
Despite the loss, State took away some positives from the way it played on the defensive end. In the previous four games, it had allowed an average of 81.3 points, with foes shooting 51 percent.
Texas A&M shot 47.2 percent but committed 22 turnovers and was held to 49 points in regulation.
Guard Jalen Steele said MSU did a better job that night of keeping the ball out of the paint.
“Every time a team drives to the middle of the paint, it causes a lot of havoc,” Steele said. “It causes a lot of problems for us to retreat back to the other man.”
The Bulldogs, who are young and lacking manpower due to injuries and offseason attrition, have tried to find an identity on defense in Ray’s first season. Some nights have been better than others, and Ray was pleased with Wednesday’s effort.
“I thought our defensive effort was really good … throughout the whole course of the game,” he said. “If you eliminate the time that we turned the basketball over and we were chasing them down, our defense was really good the whole time.”
And that’s a problem MSU has to fix: turnovers. In SEC games the Bulldogs have committed a league-worst 128 (18.3 per game), and they had 24 against the Aggies, many of them in the backcourt.
“I guess there wasn’t enough people moving and trying to come to the ball at the same time,” Steele said. “Just a lot of dribbling and playing around, and once you play around with the defender, he has a good chance of taking the ball.”
LSU ranks fifth in the SEC in turnover margin, and it will present some challenges for MSU. The Tigers are coming off a win over No. 17 Missouri and have a good inside weapon in Johnny O’Bryant.
The key to slowing down O’Bryant goes back to what Steele said about keeping players out of the paint.
“Make him become an outside game instead of an inside game, because once we get in an inside game with him, it’s going to be very tough,” said Steele.