November 21, 2012 4:54:58 AM
STARKVILLE - It's likely the words - teaching moment - will come up often this season for the Mississippi State University men's basketball program during the 2012-13 season.
One of the ways it is sure to be used this week is the way the Marquette University defends, rebounds and creates havoc for its opponents with hustle plays under head coach Buzz Williams is something MSU firsr-year coach Rick Ray would like to see his program eventually get to.
"They haven't given up, the team worked hard, played hard," Ray said after a 89-62 loss Tuesday afternoon. "We are just so short of bodies right now when you are playing three games in three days against quality competition."
Marquette (3-1) never trailed in the contest and the Bulldogs (1-3) never trailed by less than 10 points after the opening minutes.
"Marquette is a team that plays hard and with a lot of toughness," Ray said. "They are going to compete on every possession. I don't think we matched that intensity in the first half."
MSU, who is playing with eight active players and six of them being on scholarship, didn't score in the first four minutes as the Golden Eagles built an 8-0 lead. Marquette was coming off a late-second loss the previous day to Butler University when senior guard Rotnei Clarke hit an off-balance three-point heave as the clock expired for the victory.
"I thought our response after what we went through yesterday was outstanding," Williams said. "It will be interesting to see how we handle it on the other side of it tomorrow morning."
The Bulldogs allowed 29 first-half points off turnovers and failed to recover for their inability to take care of the basketball all afternoon long. The simple lack of numbers for MSU is becoming a problem both long-term instruction and in terms of productivity in games.
"We have two major problems with our depth right now," Ray said. "First of all, we can't hold guys accountable if they aren't playing hard and aren't competing. Then our other issue is when we mount a good run, we get fatigued and worn down. It is hard on us when it becomes a game of attrition."
MSU freshman wing player Fred Thomas connected on 6-of-15 shots from the field, including a 4-of-8 night from 3-point range for a career-high 17 points. The guard from Jackson's Jim Hill High School also had only one turnover, three rebounds and a steal in 34 minutes of play.
"Fred has to make open shots for us," Ray said. "He is a pure shooter. Sometimes, he gets too wrapped up in the shot, when he already has one he can make. He has to give us the same effort on the defensive end. However, we are going to get him there."
Marquette shot 57.6 percent from the field in the first half and led 48-27 at the intermission. In the first half, the Bulldogs managed only one assist, compared to the 15 turnovers due to a major lack of ball movement in the half-court motion sets.
"Our biggest problem on offense is our unwillingness to reverse the basketball," Ray said. "We have guys who are looking for the killer play. We need the ball moving through the air more. That is how your break a defense down."
Marquette received 18 points from Madison, Wis., native Vander Blue, 13 points from Trent Lockett and 11 points from Jamil Wilson. The Golden Eagles also got a double-double effort from forward Davante Gardner as he finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
A good news and bad news element hit the Bulldogs Tuesday afternoon as they received another high energy performance from sophomore forward Roquez Johnson as the Montgomery, Ala., native finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and a steal in 26 minutes. However, Johnson received a scare when he doubled over and had to be assisted off the playing floor by the MSU training staff. The official word from MSU officials after the loss was Johnson suffered through a major issue of cramps and a serious injury had been avoided.
In his third or four games, MSU freshman center Gavin Ware finished with a double-figure scoring effort with 11 points off the bench including six rebounds in 32 minutes of action.
MSU will end the tournament Wednesday afternoon in the seventh place game against the University of Texas (2-2) as the Longhorns lost 59-53 in overtime to the University of Southern California in the other consolation bracket game. The contest between the Bulldogs and Longhorns can be seen at 1:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
4. Adele Elliott: Book tour COLUMNS
5. Community Calendar for the week of April 20, 2014 ENTERTAINMENT