March 4, 2013 10:26:52 AM
AUBURN, Ala. -- The Mississippi State University women's basketball team entered its game Sunday against Auburn University in control if its destiny and with postseason still on its mind.
MSU's road to the postseason became infinitely more difficult following a 74-65 loss to Auburn before a Senior Day crowd of 2,738 at Auburn Arena in the Southeastern Conference regular-season finale for both teams.
The loss dropped MSU (13-16, 5-11 SEC) from ninth place to 12th in the SEC standings, and set up a date against the University of Alabama, the No. 13 seed, at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the opening game of the SEC tournament at The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga. The game will be broadcast regionally by Fox Sports Net South and can be heard locally through the Bulldog Sports Network on WNMQ-FM (103.1).
MSU entered the game tied in the league standings with the University of Missouri and the University of Arkansas. It also held the tiebreaker against those teams and needed to defeat Auburn to avoid playing on the first day of the five-day SEC tournament.
"We just weren't ready to play," MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. "You don't have to blame anyone, or look any further than me. We came out and weren't ready to play when the lights came on. We haven't had a good practice the last couple of days, which is typical of a young, inexperienced basketball team coming off a great win."
Coming off a 50-38 victory against No. 11 University of Georgia on Thursday at Humphrey Coliseum, which was the program's first victory against a ranked team since the 2009-10 season, MSU trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half before rallying in the second half.
"I give Auburn a lot of credit," Schaefer said. "They really executed and forced us into 31 turnovers."
MSU allowed 38 points in the first half Sunday, falling behind 40-24. Auburn shot 55.6 percent from the field in the first half, and 48.1 percent (25 of 52) for the game.
MSU began the second half with a 12-2 run. A 3-pointer by Jerica James, followed by two free throws by James, had the Bulldogs within 42-36 with 16 minutes, 20 seconds left. A jumper in the lane by Martha Alwal had MSU within 44-40 with 14:13 remaining.
An old-fashioned 3-point play by James brought MSU within 48-45. Auburn (16-13, 5-11) righted the ship and scored the next eight points. A 3-pointer by Blanche Alverson ran the Tigers' advantage to 56-45 with 9:38 left.
MSU closed within six on two occasions in the final 6:46, but couldn't overcome 31 turnovers. It was the third time the Bulldogs have had 31 or more turnovers in a game this season.
"We struggled against their zone press most of the day," Schaefer said. "I think that was the key, and our inability guard Alverson on the perimeter. Those were really the biggest disappointments for me. That's my inability in preparing this team, and we just have to find a way to bounce back."
MSU hit 25 of 48 shots from the field (51.2 percent), 3 of 8 shots from 3-point range (37.5), and 12 of 14 shots from the foul line (85.7). The Tigers hit 25 of 52 shots from the field (48.1), 6 of 13 shots from 3-point range (46.2), and 18 of 23 shots from the foul line (78.3 percent).
MSU held a 30-26 rebounding advantage. MSU had 13 assists, while Auburn had 22 assists and 23 turnovers.
Alverson paced Auburn with 32 points, including 5 of 9 from 3-point range, while Tyrese Tanner added 19 points.
Alwal notched her 16th double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds for MSU. Kendra Grant added 15 points, while James (six assists, three steals) and Carnecia Williams each added 12 points.
"We're going to embrace that opportunity and go do it," Schaefer said about the SEC tournament. "We're excited about it and look forward to playing Wednesday, when no one else is playing. I'm sure Alabama will be ready for us, and it will be a great opportunity for both teams."