January 31, 2013 2:34:19 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- The simple explanation to Wednesday night's loss for the Mississippi State University men's basketball program is Texas A&M played a better form of ugly basketball.
In their first trip to Humphrey Coliseum, Texas A&M rallied from as many as 14 points down to stun a MSU team that was according to their head coach "deflated" following their 55-49 overtime result that included the Bulldogs going through final seven-minute gap without a field goal.
In a game that included 46 turnovers and just 41 field goals, the Bulldogs connected on just two shots in the last 13 minutes of play including a game-tying three-pointer by Craig Sword with five seconds left in regulation.
"It was an ugly game that's for sure but I'm proud of my guys for fighting back in the second half," A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. "We really turned them over in the second half and turned up the tempo on them and I thought that made the difference."
MSU (7-12, 2-5 in Southeastern Conference), who arrived at the arena as the second-worst team in the nation in assist-to-turnover turned the basketball over 24 times. Wednesday night's contest marked the seventh time this season they've had 20 or more turnovers.
"Not just the turnovers but we had turnovers in the frontcourt that turned into easy layups on the other end," MSU coach Rick Ray said. "I told our guys constantly there's no defense for turnovers."
Ray, who has been trying to get Bulldogs fans to properly appreciate a perceived "ugly basketball", had to watch his team turn the ball on over 40 percent of its possessions and get outscored in the paint 36-14.
MSU's defensive effort held A&M leading scorer Elston Turner to a scoreless first half but the 6-foot-5 guard started making contested shots off screens to finish with 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting in the final 25 minutes of play.
Turner made back-to-back baskets in the second half to give the Aggies (13-7, 3-4 in SEC) its first lead since 6-5 early in the first half.
"I was kind of down because I missed a couple of shots and just a little bit frustrated because it's tough but I just couldn't let my team down," Turner said. "We had 17 points in the first half and we weren't playing well defensively. I challenged myself to step it up and pick it up for my team. It just changed everything."
MSU failed to convert on several shots from point-blank range due to the increased physical play of A&M's interior players including sophomore forward Kourtney Roberson. The Arcadia, La., native ended the night with eight points, 12 rebounds, six steals in 33 minutes of action.
"I think mentally we ran out of gas but physically we were good," MSU junior guard Jalen Steele said. "We just made little mistakes toward the end of the game. Missing that guy and giving them wide open space in the lane. Little things that we messed up on cost us the game. We have to practice and keep working and getting better at it."
MSU's early foul trouble on the perimeter even forced Ray to use walk-on guard Baxter Price, who came in with just 20 minutes the whole season prior to tipoff, early in the first half. While Price only finished with two minutes of action, MSU had a lineup on the floor consisting of two walk-ons (Price and Columbus native Tyson Cunningham) against A&M's starting five.
"It wasn't a message that was being sent to the rest of the team," Ray said. "I thought Baxter had done some really good things in practice and deserved to play some tonight."
Despite his struggles late in the interior, Ware ended the night leading MSU in scoring with 14 points in 36 minutes of action.
The loss Wednesday represents the fifth straight defeat for the Bulldogs and another opportunity for Ray to lament the fact his team didn't value possession of the basketball leading to another negative result.
"I'm not taking any credit away from Texas A&M, because obviously they caused a lot of those turnovers," Ray said. "We have to take care of the basketball to give ourselves the chance to win games. We should have won this ballgame."
The last time MSU has had this type of a disappointing start in SEC was 2006 when they started 1-7 in league play on the way to finishing 5-11, which was the worst conference record of Rick Stansbury's 14-year tenure in Starkville.
"We just made little mistakes toward the end of the game," Steele said. "Little things that we messed up on cost us the game. We have to practice and keep working and getting better at it."
MSU will try to stop the five-game slide when they host a Louisiana State University team that knocked off No. 17 University of Missouri squad Wednesday night 73-70 in Humphrey Coliseum Saturday afternoon (4:30, FSN South). In the last 25 years of MSU basketball, the program has only lost six games in a row twice (2006 and 1989).