By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State has been a team of two halves.
In each of its last two games, MSU started hot and built up double-digit first-half leads, only to see second-half collapses. The Bulldogs blew a 12-point halftime lead in Wednesday’s 55-49 overtime loss to Texas A&M, then lost an early 17-point advantage in a 69-68 setback to LSU on Saturday.
So what’s been the problem? From a statistical standpoint, turnovers and, in the LSU game, missed free throws. Not to mention generally poor shooting.
MSU made 60.5 percent of its shots in the first half of those two games, then just 33.3 percent after halftime. It committed 41 turnovers in the losses.
For coach Rick Ray, it’s a matter of coming out of the locker room better prepared.
“We’ve got to fix our second-half starts,” he said Monday. “That’s also a by-product of how well we played in the first half; teams just get so much more aggressive, almost in a desperation mode in that second half to start off.”
Sophomore Roquez Johnson said the problem starts during warmups just before the second half begins.
“We don’t warm up as hard as we should to get loose,” he said. “We wait until we get in the game, then we decide to get loose. We’ve got to play the first half and the second half the same.”
The most disconcerting part of the LSU loss was the missed free throws. State made just 8 of 20 in the second half and missed 10 of its final 13 attempts. Several players have been putting up extra free throw shots since Saturday night, including freshman guard Craig Sword, who was 1 of 6 from the line.
“I’ve been shooting free throws since the game’s been over with. It’s been on my conscience,” said Sword, who’s shooting 50 percent from the line this season.
MSU (7-13, 2-6 SEC) has lost six consecutive games and will try to get things turned around Wednesday with a visit to arch-rival Ole Miss (17-4, 6-2). As he reviews the film of the last two games and talks to his players about what happened, Ray said he tries to find a balance in emphasizing the strong first halves versus the poor second halves.
He believes the first 20 minutes against Texas A&M and LSU were the best his team’s performed in SEC play, even better than in the two wins over South Carolina and Georgia.
“I know we come out the first half, we play as hard as we can,” Johnson said, “but the second half it seems like we sort of slack off, say, the first five minutes, and it sort of gets the other team back in the game. By the time we start back fighting, it’s too late.”