Aggies Outlast State 55-49 In Overtime

There will be other frustrating moments this season. But more frustrating? A 55-49 loss to Texas A&M in overtime might be tough to top. Or, bottom. Especially as so much was trending Mississippi State's way Wednesday.

"We did everything according to the gameplan," said guard Jalen Steele. "Every thing Coach said, we did it. We just came short at the end. Simple mistakes at the end, simple turnovers, missed assignments. Little things cost us this night."

Cost dearly indeed. A 14-point Bulldog lead early in the second half evaporated to the point Mississippi State needed a near-miracle shot by Craig Sword just to extend the evening into overtime. But the three-point banker only staved off Texas A&M's victory, as the Aggies out-scored State 8-2 in the extra inning.

Six of those points came from guard J'Mychal Reese, including the go-ahead flip at 2:03 of overtime after an offensive rebound by Kourtney Roberson. But the back-breaker was provided by guard Elston Turner, who set aside an otherwise-off night and beat the shot clock for a 14-foot jumper at 0:30 for a 53-49 score.

"It was just spirit of the moment," said Turner. "I wanted the ball." Still wanted it actually after a scoreless first half and 4-of-12 shooting up to that decisive moment. He finished with eleven points, five under his season average, in 43 minutes while Reese scored ten. Guard Fabyon Harris led all scorers with 17 points.

Mississippi State got 14 points from center Gavin Ware and ten more by forward Colin Borchert. None of which mattered much as the Bulldogs (7-12, 2-5) dropped a fifth-straight conference game. This one hurt more though. "I'm disappointed with the loss," Coach Rick Ray said. "Because I thought our guys really came out and played hard and competed."

The Bulldogs did that, and for a first half played as well as any point this season. They shot 67% in the opening period, including four three-point baskets, and took the Aggies entirely out of their comfort zone for a 29-17 intermission lead. And of course put the clamps down on Turner with guards Jalen Steele, Tyson Cunningham, and Trivante Bloodman taking turns harassing him.

"Everybody came out and play hard," Sword said. "We showed we can play with anybody." Or at least with a comparable conference club also on a four-game skid. But hard wasn't enough once the Aggies began playing really hard themselves.

"It was two teams struggling," A&M Coach Billy Kennedy said. "Obviously, when you have 46 turnovers (24 State, 22 Aggies) it's an ugly day. But I'm proud of our guys for fighting back in the second half."

The first belonged to the Bulldogs, especially the frontcourt as Ware owned the lane and Borchert banged in a pair of treys, as did Steele in his best SEC half of the junior season. They combined for 25 of the team's 29 points, but then it was the defense that really stood out to Ray. "Our goal was hold them to 25 points, they scored ten the first four minutes and the last 16 minutes we hold them to seven."

State scored first (Ware) in the second period too for a high lead of 14 points. A&M found some offensive footing at last, and Turner got his first points of the night when the Dogs zoned on an inbounds play and left him free for three. Having cut the deficit in half it was Aggie defense that really changed the course. With point guard Bloodman resting, State lost the handle three-straight series at mid-court and all became layups with a free throw to boot.

"Our small lineup was able to speed the game up and get us back in it," Kennedy said. Bloodman's return settled the Dogs down briefly as he ended a four-minute drought with free throws at 14:00. But the Aggies took their first lead of the last half at 10:37 on an Alex Caruso jumper and it was back-and-forth the rest of the way.

State still could have had control if Ware and Johnson had converted on their three combined point-blank opportunities. All three rimmed awry. "It was just missed shots," Ware said. "We just didn't finish around the rim." So when Harris laid it in at 97 seconds the Aggies were ahead by three. It would have been enough too had Steele's missed trey-try not been slapped back out to Sword on the wing.

"I knew I had to shoot the ball because the clock was running down," he said of the banked-in bomb at ten ticks. Harris got a good try off before the buzzer that caught iron. State did get on the overtime-board first as Borchert hit a jumper, but that was all the offense.

"I thought our guys played hard the second half," Ray said. "But two things happened that absolutely killed us. First was the turnovers, out in the frontcourt where they could go lay it in. Second thing is, our big guys didn't finish inside. We had multiple opportunities at the rim to finish and didn't do it."

The rimaways down the second-half stretch stood out but as Ware said baskets were harder to come by already. "They're a good defensive team so there are times we're not able to get good looks. The first half I was able to get around the basket and score. In the second half they started closing in so I had to be more of a screener."

"I thought Kourtney Roberson did a good job the second half on him," Kennedy said.

Ware, 4-of-5 in the first half, was 2-of-6 in the second. And taking away Sword's unlikely strike, the Bulldog backcourt was 2-of-13 in the second and in overtime. The Aggies finished with 14 steals, ten after halftime, which was the biggest factor in their 14-0 margin for fastbreak points.

"This is hard for our guys, because I thought they put a lot of effort into this game," Ray said. "They played and competed the way I wanted to. But turnovers and failure to finish killed us."

With LSU's startling victory at Missouri, the Bulldogs are now tied with the Tigers at 2-5 SEC. And the teams meet Saturday at 4:30.

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