February 13, 2014 10:54:14 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State men's basketball coach Rick Ray admitted to having no answers Wednesday night following his team's most lopsided home loss of the season.
"I can't put my finger on it, but we've got to start figuring it out," Ray said.
Ray watched his team build a 22-8 lead and then collapse in the next 23 minutes en route to a 75-55 loss to Georgia at Humphrey Coliseum. After the game, Ray was asked to find a positive in his team's performance.
"I really don't see any," Ray said.
Ray said earlier in the week he has stopped trying to guess when his team will show up with energy and effort. Early on, though, MSU forced Georgia to miss 10 of its first 12 field goals and caused six turnovers in building its lead. But Georgia (13-10, 7-4 Southeastern Conference) outscored MSU 51-19 in the next 23 minutes.
"You aren't going to win any games when the other team shoots 74 percent in the second half," Ray said. "Our guys lost their energy. There is no way you can play the way you did in the second half after you played so well to start the game."
During a seven-minute scoring drought in the first half, MSU (13-11, 3-8) watched its lead evaporate as Georgia players constantly attacked the rim for dunks and layups. When asked to describe MSU's problems on defense, Ray had a simple answer.
"We gave up layups," Ray said.
Ray said he saw the same lack of energy and effort from his team a week ago at Texas A&M in a 20-point loss at College Station, Texas. At the time, he referred to his program as "playing like a dead ballclub." MSU delivered a similar effort in front of the home fans Wednesday night.
"Those guys in that locker room have got to start accepting who they are because Georgia attacks the paint and gets offensive rebounds to have success," Ray said. "We don't have guys that are individually good enough to put this team on their back going forward, and we have to stay collective as a unit."
After the game, Ray told the story of a team that has become emotionally and mentally disconnected from its coaching staff and has little confidence.
"If everybody does go their separate ways, we're just going to keep getting results like this," MSU freshman point guard IJ Ready said.
Ready came off the bench following his return to the court from a 24-hour fever that caused him to miss the team's loss to Kentucky on Saturday. The 5-foot-10 guard had three points and no assists and was 1 of 7 from the field in 21 minutes.
In the opening seven minutes, Georgia coach Mark Fox used 12 players before the third media timeout and eventually saw the reserves execute a comeback that included a 20-5 run to take a 28-27 halftime lead.
"We couldn't have started any worse and you've got to give their defense credit," Fox said. "I thought we were much more organized in the second half and we were very unselfish. We made plays for other people, and it led to easy baskets."
Sophomore guard Charles Mann had a game-high 19 points by attacking the basket off the dribble. Mann was 10 of 11 from the free throw line to help Georgia go 22 of 28 for the game.
In the second half, Georgia capitalized on MSU's lack of communication and lack of hustle to shoot 17 of 23 from the field. On the other end, MSU shot a season-high 25 3-pointers. MSU entered the game shooting 31.2 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. Ray said taking contested jump shots from 20 or more feet wasn't in the game plan.
"This is about coaching, but it's also about the guys believing in what they're doing and their energy level," Ray said.
Ready also wasn't able to pinpoint MSU's problem, but he said the team has to get its act together.
For the eight scholarship players and 11 active players in the MSU locker room, that belief is nearly nonexistent and they can feel that confidence being lost every step of this current six-game losing streak.
"You have to stay positive otherwise it's going to get worse from here," Ready said.
MSU will try to snap a 14-game losing streak at 12:30 p.m. Saturday when it plays at Auburn (SEC TV).
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.