With their second-leading scorer, best outside shooter, and top one-on-one defender left back in Starkville with an injured foot, the Bulldogs showed just how much Frazier was and will be missed as they dropped a 64-63 decision at Knoxville. 11th-ranked State fell far behind in the first half, then put together an aggressive late rally that fell just a shot (literally) short.
That shot was taken by All-America forward Lawrence Roberts with a tick left on the clock. After a couple of aborted inbounds attempts Roberts got the ball left of the lane and was forced to put up a fallaway jumper. The ball hit the front iron as Roberts hit the court, awaiting a whistle that did not come.
The tough miss was no blot on Roberts' record for the evening, as he battled in the middle of the lane-swarming Vol defense to tally 22 points (eight on 12 free shots) and 13 rebounds. And Stansbury was not nearly so disappointed that a second-half rally fell short as much as he was the necessity for a big comeback in the first place.
Because after taking an early 6-2 lead, the Bulldogs watched the host Volunteers gradually creep in front and then suddenly blow ahead by as much as 18 points. That 20-minute period demonstrated not only that State was missing a leading player, but the team was also unsure of what to do in Frazier's absence.
"The first half nothing functioned nearly as well," Stansbury said. "We didn't execute as well, we didn't get easy baskets in transition, we didn't create anything off our defense. And when you don't do those things that's why you go down 16 at halftime. The second half we loosed up and did a few things better."
A lot of things, in fact. Defensively the Dogs slowed down a Vol offense that had scored 42 points on 50% shooting, holding them to 37% and getting rebounds…save for one crucial breakdown at the one-minute mark when a shot-clock forced jumper was tipped in for the last UT points.
Offensively State scrambled a gameplan of sorts together and chopped the deficit down to a point, setting up the final frustrating 14 seconds after Roberts got his last defensive rebound. Naturally the attempt(s) to set up a last shot were equally hampered by not having Frazier as the first outside option, or as a taller throw-in man.
The loss was State's first in a true road-game setting since the 2002-03 Dogs lost on March 5 at, ironically, Tennessee. Since then the Bulldogs had won 16 games on opponent's home courts, including ten SEC victories. Of less historical but more immediate concern, this team had a eight-game winning streak snapped as the Dogs absorbed their first SEC defeat and slipped into a 2-1 tie with Alabama atop the Western Division.
The Bulldogs (14-3 overall, 2-1 SEC) host Arkansas this Saturday at 2:00. The game will not be televised. Nor will Frazier be suiting up this weekend, or anytime soon again if at all. After Tuesday surgery to insert a screw in the broken bone, Frazier is out for a minimum of six weeks and maybe longer. The earliest he could hope to return is the final week or two of SEC season, though his coach is publicly saying for now that Frazier is done for the year. Others with the team say the nature of this injury is such that Frazier will make every effort to hurry his return, at least in time for tournament play.
Meanwhile Stansbury and staff will spend Thursday and Friday reviewing the Tennessee tape and evaluating both the starting lineup and bench rotation. At Knoxville, junior guard Jamall Edmondson stepped in at two-guard with sophomore Dietric Slater the early alternate. Slater, a bigger body and better defender, played 25 total minutes with sevedn points on 3-of-5 shooting. Edmondson did not score in the first half or even get a decent shot, but hit a pair of treys to open the second for his six points in 21 minutes. He also had to play some point when starter Gary Ervin briefly had to rest a bruised leg.
The State staff is considering whether to stick with that lineup for Saturday, change who opens at off-guard, or maybe even make some moves on the frontcourt. Center Marcus Campbell struggled against the Vols after being whistled for two fast fouls, taking just two shots for two points in 12 total minutes. Most of the second half saw Roberts at the post with 6-5 Ontario Harper at ‘big' forward.
Clearly the Bulldogs were a better team in the last half, though how much of that was the lineup and how much just accepting Frazier's absence is for the coach to figure out. Either way, Stansbury hopes his team will pick up Saturday where they left off Wednesday. "We've got to learn from the positive experience we had the second half."
Not that the visiting Razorbacks are an encouraging matchup for State's now-limited roster. Arkansas is 13-3, 1-2 SEC after a Tuesday night home loss to Alabama.
"Arkansas is a much-improved team," Stansbury said. "They've got a lot of size now, they have great depth and a lot of experience. They had a great preseason schedule. And they've got guys making shots. Now they have a couple of guys inside you have to guard. We know it will be a difficult game here for us Saturday."