February 2, 2013 11:06:46 PM
Matthew Stevens - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- "Well, this one right here hurts."
Six words from Mississippi State University men's basketball coach Rick Ray may have defined the first-year head coach's acceptance that his team just may not know what it takes to win against adequate Southeastern Conference competition.
MSU lost its sixth straight SEC game, and second-straight home game, 69-68 to LSU on Saturday before a crowd of 5,880 at Humphrey Coliseum. The Bulldogs led at halftime but couldn't hold it because they missed 10 of their final 13 free throws.
"I don't want to take any credit away from LSU. The fact is we beat ourself," Ray said.
The defeat marked only the third time in the past 25 years the Bulldogs (7-13, 2-6 SEC) have lost six games in a row.
LSU sophomore guard Anthony Hickey made three consecutive baskets in what his coach called "heroic plays" as the Hopkinsville, Ky., native took the ball 94 feet for the game-winning runner with 1.5 seconds left in regulation.
"I usually settle for a jump shot, but I took coach's advice for a change and it turned out good," Hickey said. "It was flattened out, and if they would've sucked in, I would've made the extra pass, but I got big shoulders. If I miss that shot, I'll tell my team we'll get them next time, but I was confident I could knock down that shot."
Before Hickey, a 5-foot-11 sophomore, went on a run that included seven points in the final 46 seconds, he was 2-for-11 from the field, 1-for-8 from 3-point range. Hickey, the smallest player on the floor for either team, nailed a 3-pointer, a contested jump shot, and the game-winning runner.
"Coach always tells me don't worry about points," Hickey said. "Our confidence will go up again and we'll celebrate on the bus ride, but Sunday we'll be back focused."
After MSU's final timeout, Ray said he instructed his players to stop Hickey with a double team of sophomore guard Trivante Bloodman and sophomore Roquez Johnson. But freshman center Gavin Ware said the Bulldogs didn't listen to their coach.
"Coach was telling us he expected us to run it right and don't let him get in the paint," Ware said. "If they get the ball run, get the ball stopped. He got into our paint and coach said listening is a key factor in how we carry out the finish of the game."
Ray said he called the timeout after Bloodman hit a contested runner over two players in the lane with 7.9 seconds because he needed to calm his team down. The Bulldogs' first-year coach said he needed to set up his full-court defense because he knew coach Johnny Jones would call a play in the other huddle.
"Our guys were celebrating and trying to find their men," Ray said. "I thought it was best for us to call a timeout. When I called the timeout, I thought I was pretty clear about what we needed to do, but obviously that wasn't he case."
Ware, who hadn't faced LSU sophomore and Cleveland, Miss., native Johnny O'Bryant since a high school All-Star game two years ago, had 14 points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes. It was his fourth consecutive double-figure point total. He also held O'Bryant scoreless in the first half.
"I think Gavin has just turned the corner as far as continuing to become a better basketball player," Ray said. "He is going to be a guy when it's all said and done in the SEC that is going to be a problem for the other team. They are going to have to double him in the post or come down and dig in the post because he is just too big and strong. He's a freshman rand he's doing those things. Imagine what he is going to be like as a junior when he's got some savvy post moves and understand some things."
O'Bryant rebounded to earn his fifth consecutive double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out with 90 seconds left.
"He came out in the first half probably not as aggressive in the first half as he has in the last few games, talked about it at halftime and talked about the energy level," Jones said. "He did those things like rebound the ball, defended inside, but most importantly he went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line at a crucial time."
Four days earlier, MSU lost a 12-point halftime advantage to Texas A&M University and lost the contest in overtime. On Saturday, LSU (11-7, 3-5) didn't want to wait the extra five minutes.
"It's just felt like a fairy tale that we can come out with coach telling us we worked so hard in practice and then for us to give it all away is just unacceptable," Ware said.
MSU will play at the University of Mississippi at 8 p.m. Wednesday (CSS) and at the University of Florida at 4 p.m. Saturday (Fox Sports South). The Bulldogs are 2-11 against teams in the top 200 of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).
"It's a process our guys should be able to handle too," Ray said. "Maybe I want too much out of our team. Maybe I'm the only one who thinks we should still be winning ballgames with seven scholarship guys. That's just the way I am. I believe if we go out and do things the right way we are always going to give ourselves a chance to win."