December 20, 2012 12:14:09 AM
STARKVILLE -- Vic Schaefer knows his team's margin for error this season is minuscule.
With limited experience and depth, the Mississippi State University women's basketball team (5-5) has played eight games decided by 10 points or less. That may not sound like an unusual statistic, but it highlights the importance of hard work and attention to detail Schaefer and his coaches have espoused since they took over earlier this year.
An ideal example came Sunday in MSU's 67-57 victory against Florida A&M University at Humphrey Coliseum. Leading 32-30, the Bulldogs started the second half focused on pounding the ball inside. Unfortunately, freshman forward Sherise Williams wasn't on the same page. Williams didn't recognize the opportunity to post up on the right block and to capitalize on a high-low situation. After a few seconds, Williams posted up and received a pass only to take a hop step on her drive. The move resulted in a turnover.
"You stopped working," Schaefer shouted from the sideline as MSU went back up the court. The turnover was one of 20 MSU weathered to get back to .500.
Williams had another teaching moment later in the half when he had the ball at the top of the key and looked to reverse it to Kendra Grant on the left wing. Instead of holding the ball, Williams turned and threw a wild pass out of bounds for one of her seven turnovers.
"Don't do that," Schaefer said to Williams. He continued the conversation during the by media timeout by instructing Williams to hold the ball and wait for an opening.
Schaefer's first season at MSU has been filled with moments like those, and he realizes there will be plenty of more instances to review to help his players get to where he wants to be so the program can compete in the Southeastern Conference. The next step will come at 7 tonight when MSU plays host to Jacksonville State (0-11) at Humphrey Coliseum. Through games played Tuesday, Jacksonville State is one of six winless Division I programs (Weber State, St. Peter's, North Carolina Central, Robert Morris, and Alcorn State).
"That is the best thing we do. We go high-low on secondary break, and I don't want to pass up an opportunity to get that," Schaefer said. "You can't take that play off offensively. I am usually more concerned about defense, but taking that play off when you're wearing that other team out down low, you have to keep wearing them out. You have to have that killer instinct."
The numbers show each possession will be important for MSU. The Bulldogs are scoring 59 points per game, which is last in the Southeastern Conference by 5.8 ppg. MSU also is last in turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio and 12th in shooting percentage (37.5 percent) and rebounding margin (+1.9).
With only one senior (Darriel Gaynor), Schaefer expected growing pains like that. He has tried to offset that inexperience by stressing an aggressive defense that tries to dictate tempo and to pressure opponents. The philosophy appears to be working, as MSU is fifth in the SEC in opponents' field goal percentage (35.9) and first in the league in opponents' 3-point field goal percentage (24.6).
The problem is MSU's lack of depth makes it difficult to sustain that style of play for 40 minutes. Schaefer criticized himself Sunday following the victory for playing Grant too many minutes. The sophomore guard is averaging a team-high 34.8 minutes a game. When players play too many minutes, they're bound to make forced and unforced mistakes, which add up and prove costly when you're margin for error is limited.
Schaefer hopes those mistakes and lapses will decrease as the season progresses and players get more comfortable knowing what is expected of them. He also realizes MSU will need to work even harder in the final three games of 2012 to set the tone for its SEC opener at 7 p.m. Jan. 3, 2013, at Vanderbilt University.
The players understand things will get tougher pretty soon, so they realize the need for greater focus and better execution.
"Coach, he just talked about this, he said the media pointed it out, you were taking a play off," said Williams, who was named the SEC's co-Freshman of the Year for her career-high 21-point effort against FAMU. "Now that you think about it, I was. I had position, but I guess I stopped working. Then he told me to re-post and I tried to go back to work on her. It was a turnover. My fault. I just have to move on from it."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.