Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Defense Breakdowns, Turnovers Bring Howland's First Defeat

It was forecast as the debut of Mississippi State’s fabled freshman. It became the first loss of Ben Howland’s Bulldog tenure.

Southern University took advantage of Bulldog turnovers and defensive breakdowns for a 76-72 win at Humphrey Coliseum. The visiting Jaguars, who lost their opener at Arkansas, left 1-1. Mississippi State is also 1-1.

“They deserved to win,” Howland said. “Credit Southern for their toughness, coming here and taking it at us on our floor.”

Southern University did that. A 57% first-half shooting show, and just enough baskets in an opportunistic second half, earned the SWAC squad a win on a Southeastern Conference floor. “We think we have a pretty good group of guys that any given night playing to the best of our abilities we can compete,” SU Coach Roman Banks said.

The Bulldogs played competitively in whipping Eastern Washington on opening night. The second time around, something was missing. Though Howland wasn’t focused so much on his team’s 38% overall shooting. Nor did he blame still-developing club chemistry under a new regime.

“Number one, we were poor defensively. Number two, we had way too many turnovers.”

A total of 19 turnovers that is, and not all were forced by the Jaguars. Mississippi State made enough of their own miscues with rushed offensive moves.

“It was trying to do too much,” guard Craig Sword said. “We were forcing things.”

The most-forced thing came just after the Bulldogs had gained a second-half lead, 61-57 at 10:08. Though, given how the evening had gone, “To be honest I didn’t even know we were up,” admitted Sword. After a basket by SU’s Trelun Banks halved their deficit, Bulldog freshman Quindarry Weatherspoon rushed a jumper.

“We had a two-point lead, in front of the bench,” Howland said. Weatherspoon missed, Jaguar Christopher Hyder rebounded on one end and finished on the other for a tie. Consecutive missed treys by Sword later Banks was fouled on the second rebound and made two free throws.

His accuracy at the stripe was unique in the second half. Having stretched their lead to 69-61 with six minutes left, the Jaguars kept the door cracked by missing five of eight free shots down the stretch. State clawed back within 74-72 at 1:41 and had the ball after two missed free chances.

Guard IJ Ready made an aggressive move only to miss. So did guard Fred Thomas at 0:54. Then with the same score, freshman Malik Newman was on the stripe at 0:46 for two shots. Both caught too much iron. Ready still had a chance to tie again but his layup was blocked by Jared Sam and a Jaguar layup at 0:37 provided the final margin.

Howland looked back at the unnecessary shot with a lead as a pivotal point. But the real troubles were always defense and those turnovers. And when the Dogs did not throw the ball away, they threw up too many of the wrong shots.

“The other key was way too many threes,” Howland said. Taking 31 treys out of 60 official shots was too many for the coach. It began in the first half and worked well up to intermission, but in the second period the Dogs were just 5-of-18 at the arc. “Half our shots are threes, and we’re not even playing against a zone,” Howland said.

“It just ended up happening,” shrugged Sword. He was 2-of-8 at the arc himself but still led State with 16 points. To be sure, outside shooting was what kept State in contention for a whole half as they made six treys in the first period; three each by forward Travis Daniels and guard Fred Thomas. Maybe the longballs came too easily as State’s offense became static, then stagnant at times.

The Jaguars, weren’t. Guards Banks and Adrian Rodgers took some long shots and Rodgers made 4-of-6 at the arc. But they also took advantage of confused State defense to penetrate for shorter jumpers. The Bulldogs had to dial it back some too when center Gavin Ward and Sword started piling up personals and ultimately fouled out.

“Me and Gavin were off in critical situations when we should have been in the game,” Sword said. Ware had 13 points but just four rebounds, only one of them defensive. Daniels delivered ten boards with his nine points, all in the first half.

Banks led everyone with 18 points and Rodgers added 16, while forward Sam had ten with eight rebounds. State still had ten more boards overall but the Jaguars blocked seven shots, several of them barely off the hand.

A published crowd of 5,895—which was more realistically around 4,000 on a Monday evening—mostly showed for first sight of freshman Newman. He’d missed the opening game to let a turf toe heal longer, and some inevitable rust showed. Newman was 2-of-8 shooting, 1-of-5 at the arc, and finished with six points, three assists, and four turnovers.

“I’m still trying to work my way into it,” Newman said. “I know I’ll be fine.”

The Bulldogs don’t have any time to stew over the upset. They leave Tuesday morning for the Puerto Rico Tipoff tournament, with three games in four days. Howland said he’d rather stay home now and have three practices, but the trip will be put to use addressing problems.

“Our biggest issue is defense. We have to get back to teaching real simple concepts,” said Howland, disappointed his club has to stay with basics right now. Ball security should be next as a 19 to 8 turnover margin against Southern mean “There’s obviously not a lot of ball pressure.”

“We just have to move on to the next game,” Sword said. That is this Thursday against Miami at 4:00ct.

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