February 13, 2014 12:49:24 AM
STARKVILLE -- In a honest assessment following the most lopsided home loss of the 2013-14 season, Mississippi State coach Rick Ray admitted to having no answers.
"I can't put my finger on it but we've got to start figuring it out," Ray said.
Following a 75-55 defeat to Georgia, Ray watched his team roll out to a 22-8 lead and then completely collapse over the next 23 minutes when a blowout ensued. In the post-game media conference, Ray was asked to find one positive to his team's performance and he said bluntly "I really don't see any".
Georgia (13-10, 7-4 in Southeastern Conference) outscored MSU 51-19 over the next 23 minutes to embarrass a frustrated coach trying to rebuild the MSU program.
Ray said earlier in the week he has stopped trying to guess when his basketball team will show up with energy and effort. If he was still in the business of predicting when his team would play hard and give a solid effort, he clearly wouldn't have pegged Wednesday night for a dismal performance. He certainly wasn't feeling that way when MSU's defense was causing Georgia to miss 10 of its first 12 field goal attempts and caused six turnovers.
"You aren't going to win any games when the other team shoots 74 percent in the second half," Ray said. "Our guys lost their energy. There is just no way you can play the way that you did in the second half, after you played so well to start the game."
During a seven-minute scoring draught in the first half, MSU (13-11, 3-8) watched its lead evaporate while seeing Georgia players constantly get to the rim for dunks and layups. When asked what the issue was defensively for MSU, Ray had a very simple answer.
"We gave up layups," Ray said in a frustrated matter of fact tone.
Ray said he saw the same lack of energy and effort that was exhibited a week ago at Texas A&M in a 20-point loss at College Station, Texas when he referred to the Bulldogs program as "playing like a dead ballclub right now". Wednesday night against Georgia was worse because there wasn't any pride in front home fans at Humphrey Coliseum.
"Those guys in that locker room have got to start accepting who they are because Georgia attacks the paint and gets offensive rebounds in order to have success," Ray said. "We don't have guys that are individually good enough to put this team on their back going forward and we have to stay collective as a unit."
After the game, Ray told the story of a team that has completely become emotionally and mentally disconnected from their coaching staff and has little to no confidence at the current time.
"If everybody does go their separate ways, we're just going to keep getting results like this," MSU freshman point guard IJ Ready said.
Ready came off the bench following his return to the court from a 24-hour fever that caused him to miss the loss Saturday to Kentucky. The 5-foot-10 guard totaled three points, no assists and was 1 of 7 from the field in 21 minutes Wednesday night.
During Georgia's dismal opening seven minutes, their coaching staff tried to find combination of players to hopefully keep them relatively close on the road. Georgia coach Mark Fox played 12 different players before the third media timeout and eventually saw the reserves execute a comeback that included a 22-8 run to end the first half and a 1-point halftime lead.
"We couldn't have started any worse and you've got to give their defense credit," Fox said. "I thought we were much more organized in the second half and we were very unselfish. We made plays for other people and it led to easy baskets."
One of those Georgia players that made plays was sophomore guard Charles Mann as the 6-foot-5 wing player had a game-high 19 points by attacking the basket off the dribble. Mann made most of damage at the foul line by going 10 of 11 from the charity stripe where Georgia was 22 of 28 throughout the game.
In a second half that saw nonstop miscommunication and lack of hustle on defense for MSU lead to constant layups for Georgia, Fox's squad shot 17 of 23 from the field in the final 20 minutes. As the lack of defensive intensity made the deficit continue to grow for MSU, Ray watched his team shoot a season high 25 three-point attempts. For a team that came in averaging just 31.2 percent conversion rate beyond the three-point arc, taking contested jump shots from over 20 feet out was certainly not in Ray's game plan.
"This is about coaching but it's also about the guy's believing in what they're doing and their energy level," Ray said.
For the eight scholarship players and 11 active players in the MSU locker room, that belief is nearly nonexistent and they can feel that confidence being lost every step of this current six-game losing streak.
"I don't know what is going on right now but I guess we have to get it together," MSU freshman point guard IJ Ready said. "You have to stay positive otherwise it's going to get worse from here."
Tyson Cunningham provides early spark off MSU's bench
Tyson Cunningham was part of the best stretch Mississippi State had Wednesday in a blowout loss to Georgia.
The 6-foot-3 guard from Columbus nailed a three-pointer in the corner while being fouled to give MSU a 17-8 lead with 11 minutes and 22 seconds left in the first half. Cunningham, who has averaged just 8.4 minutes per contest this season, tied a season-high with 6 points.
MSU (13-11, 3-8 in Southeastern Conference) was up 22-8 but was outscored 20-5 over the final 10 minutes of the first half to find themselves down 28-27 at halftime.
"I believe we were basing everything off our offense and once our shots weren't falling, we weren't staying focus on the defensive end," Cunningham said. "We just had to get stops and we weren't getting them."
Cunningham, who is one of two seniors on the roster, said after the disappointing 75-55 loss to Georgia at Humphrey Coliseum that he can see drastic differences between the 13-game losing stretch of last year and what's happening now.
"It's a little different because we're more mature and last year we were young and some things just happened," Cunningham said. "This year I believe some of it is in our control and we can correct and change individually to help the team get better."
Since Dec. 1, Cunningham had never played more than 13 minutes in a game and the former lettermen at Columbus High earned 13 minutes of playing time Wednesday night.
Booneville native Kenny Paul Geno scores career high 6 points off Georgia's bench
In front of many friends and family, Georgia freshman guard Kenny Paul Geno went off for a career high in a building his parents took him to see MSU play his entire childhood.
The Booneville native, who led the Blue Devils to the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 3A state title last year, had six points in career high 14 minutes. Before Wednesday night, Geno had just 14 total minutes of action in a Southeastern Conference.
Geno averaged 23.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per game at Booneville last year. The 6-foot-6 forward had three field goals on a pair of runners in the lane and a tip in.
Geno signed with Georgia on April 17 after he already had scholarship offers from Jackson State, Lamar, Mercer, Middle Tennessee State and Radford.
Wilson not active Wednesday after suffering migraines
MSU freshman forward De'Runnya Wilson was inactive for Wednesday night's game due to suffering migraine headaches after receiving what school officials called "serious dental work" earlier in the week.
Wilson had seen action off the bench in each of the last two games against Texas A&M and Kentucky. The 6-foot-5 forward received a standing ovation from the Humphrey Coliseum crowd when he checked in for his first home game last weekend against Kentucky.
As a backup at wide receiver, Wilson concluded his first season on the gridiron with 26 catches for 351 yards and three touchdowns. Wilson didn't become an active walk-on member of the basketball team in mid-January.
Wilson, who was averaging on 4.3 minutes per game in four contests this season, was a legitimate two-sport star at Wenonah High School in Birmingham, Ala., including averaging double figures in scoring and rebounding as a senior on the hardwood. Wilson turned down Division I basketball scholarship offers from Auburn, UAB and Murray State.
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