By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – There have been several factors that have led to Mississippi State’s current three-game losing streak.
But one constant factor in all three losses for the Bulldogs is struggling against zone defenses.
MSU has shot the ball poorly outside of the lane this season, and zone defenses have prevented the Bulldogs from getting the ball inside to center Gavin Ware and kept leading scorer Craig Sword from slashing to the basket.
“I’ve never seen so much zone in my life or in my career,” said coach Rick Ray. “What we have to do is find a way to get people out of the zone by knocking down some shots. What we can’t do is settle. When we see a zone we’ve settled for shots. I think we need to continue to probe and attack the zone.
“When we see man-to-man there’s a lot more driving lanes and there’s more opportunities to attack those lanes. But I still think we have some driving lanes against the zone, and we’ve got to do a better job as a coaching staff of exposing those driving lanes and giving our guys an opportunity to see them.”
In the last three games, State’s leading scorers Sword (6.6) and Ware (8.0) are well below their usual double digit output.
Fewer free throws
Another area where the zone defense has cut down the Bulldogs offensive numbers has been on the free throw line.
Prior to the past three games, Mississippi State was averaging 25.7 free throw attempts per outing. During the three game skid, the Bulldogs have managed just 26 free throw shots combined.
“The past two ballgames we’ve only gotten to the free throw line six times apiece,” Ray said. “We’ve got to get back into attacking mode and getting to the free throw line.”
However, getting points from the line has not been easy for MSU, either. The Bulldogs are 13th in the Southeastern Conference, making just 64.7 percent.
State’s struggles on the road continued this past weekend at Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs have now lost 13 straight away games dating back to last season.
Ray is just 1-16 on the road during his two years in Starkville and 0-5 this season.
His lone victory came in his SEC opener at Georgia on Jan. 12, 2013.
“The teams I’ve had success with in the past on the road have been experienced, veteran-laden teams,” Ray said. “For our guys who are freshmen and sophomores, these are the first times they’ve played at these places.
“By the time they are juniors and seniors it’s almost like old habit because they’ve played there before, it’s never a new experience and they are never in awe of that.”