February 13, 2015 1:23:43 AM
STARKVILLE -- I.J. Ready was understandably frustrated, and it showed.
Moments after Ready, a sophomore point guard, and Mississippi State's basketball team dropped a 55-51 home decision to Alabama on Tuesday night, the Little Rock, Arkansas native wore the look of a player who is running out of answers to describe MSU's deteriorating season.
"If we knew why we were struggling so bad," said Ready. "We'd fix it."
The Bulldogs are rapidly running out of time to find that fix.
With just seven games remaining in the regular season, MSU (11-13 overall, 4-7 in Southeastern Conference play) finds itself in an all-too familiar position as the Bulldogs look to end a sudden losing streak.
After winning four out of six conference games, a stretch that included road wins at Auburn and at Tennessee, MSU has reverted back to midseason form, averaging just 46 points in back-toback losses to Arkansas and Alabama the last two times out, a sharp downturn for a program that had seemingly turned a corner no more than a week ago.
"It is certainly disappointing," said MSU coach Rick Ray after the loss against Alabama. "We do so many things well. Defensively, we do a good job. We do well on the glass. But we don't take care of the basketball, and that has killed us."
MSU turned the ball over 14 times in a porous first half at Arkansas and 11 more times in the first half against Alabama. That inability to protect the ball has been an achilles heel for the Bulldogs all season.
"We just get to going too fast," said Ready. "We get in a rush, don't share the ball enough. We have to just go back to practice and keep working."
According to Ray, MSU's turnover issues are just part of the problem.
"There's three things we need to concentrate on as a basketball team to start winning these games," said Ray. "The first thing is, we are just absolutely killing ourselves with these turnovers. The next thing is that we need to do a better job knocking down our free throws.
"And then the last thing is our talking on the court, but more importantly our listening. For whatever reason, our guys aren't executing at critical points of the game."
Like his teammate, MSU junior guard Craig Sword, believes the solution lies on the practice court.
"Just have to get more shots up, work on our games more," said Sword, who is averaging 17 points per game over MSU's last five games. "We have to put the work in if we want to see the results."
Luckily for the Bulldogs, this weekend will feature a trip to face a team currently searching for the same answers. Missouri (7-17, 1-10) has been stuck in the doldrums that currently plague MSU for most of the season, as the Tigers have lost 10 straight games. That means one streak will end this Saturday when the teams tip off at 3 p.m. in Columbia, Missouri on the SEC Network.
"It's about focusing in on those little things offensively," said Ray when asked how his team would prepare for the Tigers. "We have to make sure we execute in end-of-game situations, so we will work on that. And free throws, we have to get a lot of free throws up. But a lot of that is guys caring enough about their game to come in and do some of that work individually, too."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat