January 22, 2014 11:10:12 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Coming off one of his team's best efforts of the season Thursday, Vic Schaefer never imagined he would have returned from Texas on Sunday with a "limp."
Two days later, the second-year Mississippi State women's basketball coach was still smarting from the emotional and physical battering he, his coaches, and his team took in an 83-35 loss to then-No. 25 Texas A&M.
The loss was even more painful to endure because it came on the heels of a 67-63 loss to then-No. 12 Tennessee on Thursday at Humphrey Coliseum. As tough and as hard as MSU played in that game, Schaefer felt his team showed little toughness and heart Sunday on the day he, associate head coach Johnnie Harris, assistant coach Aqua Franklin, director of basketball operations Maryann Baker, and video coordinator Sklyar Collins returned to College Station, Texas, to face the program they played integral roles in building into a national power.
"In competition, when things get difficult, I think that is when your real character and who you are shows up," Schaefer said. "We got down at Arkansas (in a 54-50 victory) and really responded, and I thought that was a positive sign. We got punched at A&M and we didn't respond. We have to answer the bell and realize that in the arena of competition nice guys lose. You have to be competitive and you have to have an edge to you, and you have no chance if you don't play hard."
MSU (14-5, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) will try to regroup from its latest loss at 6 p.m. Thursday when it takes on Ole Miss (9-10, 0-5) at Tad Smith Coliseum.
As disappointing as Schaefer saw his team's 63-36 loss to Alabama in the SEC tournament last season, he said Tuesday he considers the loss to Texas A&M even more troubling. The "limp" he referred to at the team's #HailStateHoops luncheon at Mize Pavilion manifest itself in many forms. Schaefer was contrite, saying "He doesn't get paid to be wrong," and he believed he was wrong because he thought his team was prepared to play the Aggies.
Schaefer's body language also revealed his embarrassment, as he talked with his hands in his pockets and his leg pumped agitatedly as he talked about the disappointment he felt on a day Texas A&M worked so hard to make special for him and his coaching staff.
"I am not taking anything away from Texas A&M," Schaefer said. "A&M is good, coach (Gary Blair) does a great job, his staff is doing a good job, Bob Starkey has done a great job with their defense. Those kids are as advertised. There is a reason those guards were part of the No. 2 (recruiting) class in the country. They are really talented and they are young. Those guards are all sophomores. They have developed them. That coaching staff has worked hard to develop them, so I am not taking anything from Texas A&M. They are a tremendous basketball team. Right now, I think they are the class of the league. They are in the driver's seat to win it. Anything short of a train wreck is going to keep them from doing that."
While Texas A&M likely will fight it out with Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Tennessee, LSU, and Kentucky at the top of the league, MSU still has plenty of time to make up for its worst loss of the season. A victory Thursday coupled with a win Sunday at home against Missouri would put MSU in position to climb to the middle of the pack in the league. With seven SEC teams projected to make the NCAA tournament, there is no reason for MSU to think it can't be one of those teams, especially given how many things it did well against Tennessee.
But Schaefer knows there has to be a big change if his team is going to recapture that momentum.
"We have to have a fight mentality instead of a flight mentality," Schaefer said. "I think we had a little flight Sunday. We have to get to the fight part. Up until Sunday, I really had a lot of confidence and felt good about this team. As you know, last year that head reared up several times during conference and we hadn't had that this year, but we had it Sunday."
Last season, Schaefer's first as head coach at MSU, the Bulldogs suffered six losses of 20 or more points in SEC play. Those defeats included a 51-, a 53-, and a 48-point loss.
This season, MSU had avoided washout games like the Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Texas A&M losses of 2012-13. The fact that the Bulldogs already have eclipsed their win total from last season (13) speaks volumes about the progress a team with three freshmen and one junior college transfer playing key roles has made.
Still, it was difficult for Schaefer to find a silver lining in anything that transpired Sunday.
"I am not going to sit there and let you go out there and not play hard," Schaefer said. "Last year, I sat several kids several conference games. I will continue to do it. I will play kids who are going to play hard and might not play as well, but they're going to play hard and represent our program and who we are.
"Not playing hard, you don't fit in here. I am disappointed that showed up Sunday."
Schaefer shouldered the responsibility of not having his players ready to face Texas A&M. The 48-point loss felt more like a 96-point drubbing in part because Texas A&M recognized all of the members of the MSU coaching staff with personalized introductions that highlighted each person's contributions to the Texas A&M program.
After such a rousing beginning, Schafer was left to swallow an effort that left him embarrassed.
"I am a proud Bulldog, and this school deserves better than what we gave them Sunday," Schaefer said. "I am in it to win it. I am invested. I am here to win a championship. I am all in."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.