February 15, 2019 3:59:57 PM
By Amber Dodd
STARKVILLE -- "Lethargic."
That's the word Mississippi State women's basketball coach Vic Schaefer used to describe his feelings about No. 5 MSU's 75-67 loss to Missouri on Thursday night in a Southeastern Conference game at Humphrey Coliseum.
Lethargic, which is defined as sluggish and apathetic, can explain some efforts of the game, but MSU started the game with vigor and energy. Dialed in on defense, MSU held Missouri to 38-percent shooting for a 17-12 lead in the first quarter. It worked the paint with senior center Teaira McCowan and graduate transfer forward Anriel Howard.
But McCowan's usual double-double couldn't withstand troubles from the Bulldogs' guards. Howard's foul trouble eventually caught up to her. Her three fouls worked against her 11 points and three rebounds at halftime.
This was MSU's first time allowing the winning team 75 points since its only other loss this season to Oregon, which scored 82 on Dec. 18. Lackluster guard play could be the culprit in the first loss in the Humphrey Coliseum since Tennessee's 82-64 win on Feb. 26, 2017, on MSU's Senior Night.
"We really struggled guarding off the bounce tonight," Schaefer said. "It was probably our worst defensive effort of the year, by far."
Missouri's aggressive, smothering zone defense became impenetrable as guard play didn't evolve for the Bulldogs. The guard ensemble of Andra Espinoza-Hunter, Bre'Amber Scott, Jazzmun Holmes, Jordan Danberry, and Myah Taylor combined to shoot for 11-for-35 in the loss.
While Missouri found its footing from beyond the arc, Holmes and Danberry combined for 10 turnovers. Holmes' only points came with three seconds. Danberry, who exploded for 20 points against Tennessee on Sunday, went 3-for-11 from the field for six points.
Sagging perimeter defense by MSU's guards allowed Missouri to shoot 4-for-5 from the arc as part of an 11-for-26 showing from 3-point range.
"I don't think we weren't executing," Holmes said. "I think it was being focused, for us. Like coach said, we weren't very focused coming out, so I guess that will be a focal point for us the rest of the week."
Missouri's seven guards combined to shoot 24-for-44, including Sophie Cunningham, who earned the game-high of 24 points with six rebounds. It was her best game against MSU in her career. She reached career milestone 2,000 points in the win. Missouri starting guards combined for a 55-percent shooting rate.
"On the defensive piece, there were way too many open shots that we allowed them to create," Schaefer said. "We gave up a bunch of layups, uncontested layups where we were spread out and didn't guard the ball and didn't rotate, so that, again, is uncharacteristic. It seemed like we slow stepped tonight."
Scott had 10 points and three rebounds off the bench. Espinoza-Hunter had 12 points and a rebound. McCowan's double-double (12 points and 13 rebounds) weren't enough as 18 turnovers and 12 assists disrupted the team.
Howard didn't get a chance to shine, either. She finished early with a team-high 21 points and six rebounds after fouling out with 1 minute, 47 seconds left. Her 3-pointer cut Missouri's lead to 67-64.
"I felt like our whole team had a lack of focus," Schaefer said. "We had it in shoot-around. I noticed it in shoot-around. We have got some things happening. Obviously tonight it showed."
MSU will return to action at 1 p.m. Sunday against Texas A&M in College Station, Texas.
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