March 14, 2012 10:56:22 AM
Matthew Stevens - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- It would be inaccurate to categorize the Mississippi State University men's basketball team as less than prepared for what turned out to be the season finale Tuesday night.
The Bulldogs were properly prepared to fail.
That's exactly what happened as the University of Massachusetts defeated MSU 101-96 in double overtime in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament before an announced crowd of 2,507 at Humphrey Coliseum.
The result shouldn't have been surprising considering MSU players went to their Twitter accounts and said they didn't want to participate in the NIT. The coaching staff also didn't practice the team for three days after a loss to the University of Georgia in the first round of Southeastern Conference tournament on Thursday. Finally, the Bulldogs delivered a lackluster effort that capped a long line of disappointing results that doomed a season that at one time was filled with promise.
After his final collegiate basketball game, MSU guard Brian Bryant confirmed the team didn't work out together following the loss to Georgia until Monday afternoon -- less than 24 hours until the tip of its game against UMass.
"(Coaches) said they'd let us know Sunday what we would do," Bryant said. "We were just sitting around, waiting on the text message."
Less than two minutes into the game, MSU trailed 6-0 before coach Rick Stansbury called timeout to regroup the squad. Thirty-one seconds later, UMass point guard capitalized on a turnover by Bryant and cruised the other way to make it 8-0.
"We were down (and) nobody wanted to play," MSU senior guard Dee Bost said. "We first heard we weren't in the NCAA we were down to play, but, at the same time, it was game time and everybody said we've got another chance to play and we are going to compete no matter what."
UMass, the fifth best team in the Atlantic 10 Conference and a team that hadn't been in the postseason since 2008, built a 13-point advantage in the first half and led by 10 at halftime.
"You could tell people's minds weren't right in the beginning," Bryant said. "We didn't come to play and this was the result."
MSU (21-12), which ended the season losing seven of its last nine games, received polite applause from the announced crowd -- the worst attendance for a home game in Stansbury's 14 years as head coach -- as it entered the Humphrey Coliseum tunnel.
"We just ran out of bodies," Stansbury said. "The guys that were on that floor were competing, and that's all I could ask of them."
Against a team that was undersized and less athletic, MSU allowed UMass to dominate points in the paint (54-40) and second-chance points (24-7). It also was outrebounded 56-41, the biggest margin of the season.
"It was the little things," MSU freshman guard Rodney Hood said. "The little things off the court. Being disciplined in classroom, on the court. ... I saw some stuff."
Williams, a 5-foot-9 guard, led UMass (23-11) in scoring and hit pressure shots down the stretch in the second half and in both overtime periods. The buckets, which ended every MSU run, came after he looked to suffer a gruesome leg injury after securing an defensive rebound. Williams' left leg appeared to give out and turned in the wrong direction after he came down, but he popped back up after a few moments and refused to come out of the game.
"Every time we threw a jab, they came back with one of their own," UMass coach Derek Kellogg said.
The win was the first postseason victory for Kellogg in four years since he took the job at his alma mater. UMass will travel to top-seeded Seton Hall for the second round of the NIT this weekend.
Sean Carter added 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Minutemen, while Javorn Farrell had 16 points, Terrell Vinson had 12, and Raphiael Putney had 10 points and 16 rebounds.
Trailing 62-51, the Bulldogs went on a 12-0 run, grabbing their first
lead, 63-62, with a little more than eight minutes to play in regulation. The Minutemen retook the lead and built a four-point lead with a little less than three minutes to play, but MSU junior forward Arnett Moultrie scored the final four points in regulation to force overtime.
Moultrie scored a career-high 34 points on 12-of-23 shooting from the field. He also had six rebounds in 49 minutes. The 6-11 forward, who has been critical of his teammates in the past month, said he wasn't sure about his future at MSU and said he would evaluate his options for the NBA draft in "the next few weeks."
"If I do come back it will be to play with (Rodney) Hood," Moultrie said.
With the loss, MSU is now 7-8 in the NIT. It is the fourth time in 11 postseason trips under Stansbury the Bulldogs have played only one game in the NIT.
"It don't hit you till it's over," Stansbury said. "There's not going to be but one happy team, that's the team that wins the national championship. Everybody else is going to have this feeling somewhere along the way."