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An Untimely Collapse

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Mississippi State’s lead slid into oblivion as the offense lost cohesion against the 1-3-1 zone.

Matt Bush - USA TODAY Sports

Another game, another data point. Our understanding of this team is slowly taking shape. Unfortunately tonights data point shows a team that needs top 5 defense to contend against a bad team... and didn’t get it when it mattered most.

One thing I missed in writing up of the Arkansas game is that SECCountry had State at number five in their latest power rankings. It’s nice to know somebody outside the MSU family believes. In that same ranking they had Arkansas at two and ole miss at twelve. This was after the Rebels took down Carolina in the conference opener but before Georgia handled them easily in Athens. Neither of those teams are considered good. Long story short, road tests in the SEC are always a tricky proposition, but to live up to that fifth place ranking State had to avoid drama in Oxford. No excuses, unless it’s “we’re not actually good (yet?)”

The first ten minutes were a back and forth battle, neither team having a clear advantage. But from a 15 - 15 tie, State pushed the lead to 6 before the Rebels fought it back to 21-20. Almost immediately State began imposing their will, pushing the lead to 28-20 with multiple unimpeded drives to the basket and a 3 for good measure. After Andy Kennedy used a timeout State continued to push their lead to a dangerous 13 points with just over 3 left in the half. But from there the wheels came off with 3 turnovers, 2 shooting fouls, and another 2 easy layups to end the half, only attempting a single field goal and drawing one foul. At the half the lead had been cut to 6.

Notably, State hit 50% from deep in the first period, marking a stark difference from the Arkansas game. The Rebels on the other hand only managed a 20% clip. Just as 3 point luck indicates a better performance than the score against Arkansas, it shows that this half was closer than it looked.

The trend didn’t change coming out of the half, with Ado getting in foul trouble and coming out. His absence was felt immediately as Ole Miss drove for an unchallenged dunk and cut the lead to one at 38-37. Ado returned after just two minutes on the bench and once again his value was clear when he blocked a shot in the lane on the very next play, leading to foul shots off the fast break. That still didn’t translate to points as the younger Weatherspoon missed both.

But coming out of the media timeout the lead ballooned to 11 on the back of multiple layups and stayed around 9 until 6 to go as both teams struggled to score.

Ole Miss pushed within four with a big three from Breein Tyree at 6:24, followed by a State timeout. The home team had shifted to an aggressive 1-3-1 zone and State’s offense broke down badly, with multiple turnovers and bad shots as the point man disrupted perimeter ball movement. The precise coordination to cut out the heart of the zone just wasn’t there. Coming out of the timeout Ole Miss followed with two successful possessions to tie it at 53. Another timeout, another big ole miss play to get to the line and take the lead. Over the next 3 minutes both offenses choked, state on missed 3’s (2 of them brutal in and outs), ole miss on tough shots and missed free throws. But with 1:10 to go the Rebels secured a crucial offensive rebound up by 2, and drove to the rim to take the lead by 4. State took it back immediately and brought the game back to 2 on an Ado put back with 0:40 to go, but after running the clock Ole Miss drove in for another close range, barely contested floater with 14 seconds on the clock. After several missed shots on the other end, the defensive rebound sealed it. The home team hit two meaningless free throws and time expired with a final score of 64-58.

From Eli Wright’s layup at 10:42, State was outscored 22-8. Defensively for State there were several inexcusable drives into a wide open lane that cannot happen on a defensively minded team, whether or not Ado is on the floor. All told, 10 posessions ended with layups or freethrows, an Ole Miss scored 15 of their 22 points on these golden opportunities. But the offense is where the collapse really happened. Against the 1-3-1, possessions are supposed to tend toward layups or turnovers. There were 3 turnovers during this period, so that’s covered, but only 2 layup opportunities. Meanwhile they went 1/5 on midrange jumpers, and 0/11 on 3 point attempts. A few of these were very close to dropping and probably would have been the difference in the ballgame, but most were simply bad shots. The 3 point shots were consistently covered or hurried, and the mid range jumpers were give up shots taken in lieu of creating an actual scoring opportunity in almost all cases. Maybe 4 of these 16 shots were legitimate plus scoring opportunities, though I can’t know without rewatching the tape. Someone else will have to do that, because I’ve relived this game enough.

Mississippi State’e collapse was driven by too many jump shots, and not enough layups.

There’s a risk of arbitrary end points in excoriating the Bulldogs for the last 10 minutes of basketball, and those 13 point and 11 point leads did happen. But a look at this game in concert with last reveals a troubling pattern: State shot 35% from the field, 22% from deep (missing all 13 after the half) and 53% from the charity stripe. Just as with Arkansas it’s impressive that the team can compete with those kind of numbers, but 2 full games of abysmal shooting from all areas can’t be ignored. No matter how good your defense, rebounding and ball movement is you can’t overcome that kind of handicap consistently. It’s nearly impossible to be a competent offensive team without spacing from decent 3 point shooters. If defenses don’t pay for open 3’s they will continue to clog the lane as Q drives, and double tea when we get an entry pass or drive. But if this doesn’t improve soon entry passes will be impossible as teams go zone.

The “MSU rises and falls with the Weatherspoons” argument got a boost tonight, with the brothers going 6/22 from the field, 0/5 from deep, 50% on 8 freethrows, with 6 turnovers to top it off. Take that for what you will, but I’m skeptical of relying on two players for the fortune of the program. Someone needs to step up when those two have a bad night, and tonight there was a massive void. If State needs elite games from two specific players to win it will be a frustrating season.

Notes:

Tyson Carter saw only 15 minutes of action, giving up time to Stapleton and Peters.

Speaking of Stapleton and Peters, they seemed to play better tonight but It didn’t show up in the box score beyond Stapleton’s 9 rebounds. Both played crucial minutes down the stretch, so Howland may have felt they looked better as well. But their shooting (which was as bad as the Weatherspoons) may have been what cost the game.

Ado spent little time at the foul line tonight, but he didn’t get the ball much either. The foul trouble definitely hurt his defense, but on offense he was rarely used except when he got a put-back off a board, which can’t be explained away.

Holman, Ado, and Datcher combined to hit 5 of just 9 two point shots tonight, and several of those came off rebounds. That indicates a severe failure to get entry passes compared to the Arkansas game, and probably explains most of the offensive dysfunction.