Last night Mississippi State was handed their first loss of the season by Arizona State. The final score was 72-67, but watching the game, it did not feel that close. The first 13 minutes of the game experienced many lead changes. With 7:40 left in the half, Mississippi State led the game 17-16, and that’s the last time they would be in front. ASU went on a 23-7 run to close out the half with a 39-24 lead. For most of that 23-7 run, Mississippi State looked like the team they did last year; taking a lot of bad shots, trying to force 3’s, or missing wide open 3’s. This got the Bulldogs in a hole, but they almost dug themselves out.
I’m not sure what Coach Ben Howland said in the locker room, but the Bulldogs adjusted; opening the half with a 7-0 run. A few 3-pointers started falling for MSU and they started to get in rhythm, chipping away at the lead ASU had established in the 1st half. With 8:00 left, Arizona State only had a 55-53 lead and it looked like MSU was ready to take the lead and control of the game, but that wasn’t the case. The Sundevils quickly jumped back out to a 7 point lead with 5:00 remaining and Mississippi State had to crawl back into the game. Holman made a clutch 3-pointer to cut the lead to 65-63 and less than 3:00 in the game. ASU’s Kimani Lawrence had an amazing game and made an incredible 3 with 37 seconds left. Mississippi State rushed down the court, put up a 3, and missed. I’m not sure if it was lack of awareness or something else, but when Arizona State got the rebound, no one rushed to go foul him. More than 20 seconds were lost after both of the free throws were made. The Bulldogs fought hard in the 2nd half, but this is not the team everyone expected to see this season.
Usually, I try to write more positive takeaways than negative, but I don’t think this will be the case today. Let’s get this over with...Like I stated before, the team looked like they did last year. Forcing shots that weren’t there and not capitalizing on open 3’s. Coming into the season, I expected the team to improve shooting; 8-30 (26.7%) from deep is not something I wanted to see all season and it’s not how a top-20 team should shoot the ball. I would not be surprised if my neighbors heard me scream, “WHY WOULD YOU SHOOT THAT,” during most of the first half. When MSU gets hot from 3, they’re HOT and look like an elite team, but the consistency hurts them. For most of the game, ASU easily drove to the basket on countless drives and got easy points inside. Whenever the starters came out of the game, the team’s momentum went with them. In the first three games, Tyson Carter had been a spark as the 6th man, finishing with double digit points in every one of those games. Carter struggled to do anything for the team; only contributing 2 points and a rebound. Nick Weatherspoon got in foul trouble early and fouled out at the end after an intentional foul, also, Lamar Peters finished with 4 fouls. Lastly, 25-69 (36.2%) from the field is not what this team is supposed to look like.
Now that that’s over, here are the positives: Mississippi State is still one of the best in forcing turnovers. They finished with 6 steals and 5 blocks that helped bring the Bulldogs back into the game. Speaking of, Mississippi State fought back into the game after being down as much as 18 points in the first half. The team didn’t give up and did their best to erase a terrible first half. Nick Weatherspoon is still himself after his ankle injury against Long Beach State. He made two 3’s during their comeback in the 2nd half and finished perfect from deep. Robert Woodard played well, providing 6 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals; he did his job. Woodard is still getting better and is more and more fun to watch every game. MSU finished with only 10 turnovers (season low), but 6 of them came from Q Weatherspoon and Aric Holman. Holman scored a team-high 22 points, 10 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks.
Looking ahead, Mississippi State plays Alcorn State, Dayton, and McNeese State before facing their first ranked opponent, Clemson. This is just one loss and the Bulldogs can learn a great deal from it. Learn from the loss, implement the adjustments in these next three games, and then prepare for Clemson. The Bulldogs showed flashes of the top-15 team they have the capability of being against Arizona State; once they figure out how to be consistent with their play, there aren’t many teams in the country that will be able to stop them.