"It's obvious what we had to tackle tonight," said Stansbury. "We didn't have a lot of depth and had to go with what we had. Unfortunately we weren't good enough to do enough things for forty minutes to win the game."
What the Bulldogs were unable to do was either shoot straight or score often, which effectively guaranteed defeat. On their own floor State hit only 25.5%, missing 41 of 55 attempts. The tale from the three-point arc was even more damning, as only a trey-try by freshman guard Reggie Delk went through the hoop; the other 15 longballs misfired.
The 46 points were State's fewest since a 47-46 loss to Butler in the first round of the 2003 NCAA Tournament. And if not for free throws by freshman guard Jamont Gordon the Bulldogs would have recorded the fewest points by a Stansbury team ever, worse than the 45 at Auburn in 2000. Coming two days after an overtime loss to Northwestern (La.) State, this marked the first time since 1985-86 State has dropped consecutive home losses in non-conference play.
Stansbury did not critique the accuracy of his available personnel, though. Rather he pointed to key absences as crippling State's gameplan and rotations. Senior wing-guard Dietric Slater and junior forward Piotr Stelmach were sidelined with ankle injuries, and sophomore center Charles Rhodes was held out after, the coach said, missing a practice due to illness. All three were easily the most veteran players at their respective positions. And freshman point guard Richard Delk missed a fifth-straight game with a ‘hot' spot on his foot.
"We didn't have but eight players," said senior point guard Jamall Edmondson, who had to put in 38 hard minutes without a true backup at his position. "At times it got very frustrating."
"It's obvious, we're without three of our top five scorers, and what little experience we have," said Stansbury. "And it caused other people to have to play that haven't played a lot." Those players weren't able to pick up the slack this night, though they certainly tried. Edmondson led State with 15 points, Gordon added 13 points, and senior center Wesley Morgan score 10 with a career-best 21 rebounds.
But the trio also were a combined 11-of-37 from the field, and their accuracy got no better as the game progressed…for an obvious reason. "I was exhausted," said Edmondson who was 5-of-19 and 0-of-7 from the arc. "That's a lot of minutes, I didn't have a choice, I had to play."
The Lions were not an offensive machine either, but did get 36% of their shots to fall. More importantly, they made nine three-point buckets and used longballs repeatedly to turn back tentative State attempts at second-half rallies. Forward Quennell Green was only 5-of-15 shooting but all of his baskets counted for three points, while forward Ricky Woods matched his 15 points with 15 more rebounds. Guard Daryl Cohen came off the bench for a pair of treys and 10 total points.
"Give Southeastern Louisiana a lot of credit," said Stansbury. "In the second half they stepped up and made some shots. They attacked the zone and got the ball where they needed to."
State was playing zone defense for the fifth-straight game precisely because the roster has not been full-strength all season. But this night had the shortest bench yet, and while Stansbury rotated in the three backups early (all eight Dogs had played within the opening ten minutes) and often four of the started piled up 32 or more minutes. By the last ‘quarter' it was clear everyone was on their last legs.
"Plus the players we had didn't have a lot of experience, and we played against a lot of juniors and seniors tonight," noted Edmondson. "We were outnumbered."
"They were subbing in-and-out and we got tired," Gordon said. "They just outran us." That was a tough pill for State's young athletes to swallow.
For a half the Bulldogs could run and even shoot with the Lions, which was no great feat as both squads had miserable aim. Each team missed eight of their first ten shots. The Lions had some excuse, as jumpers over the MSU zone just weren't falling. State, though, was going against straight man-defense in the opening period, yet the Dogs failed to work the ball into scoring positions and convert opportunities.
"We forced a lot of bad shots tonight," said Gordon. "Especially me. I tried to make some plays happen, it just wasn't working." But he had little choice but force the action as nothing was working for anyone. The only bright spot was Morgan's rebounding, yet even this led to frustration as the 7-2 center struggled to cash in on second-chance shots himself. At one point Morgan had 11 rebounds to a dozen for the whole Lion team.
State did go ahead 19-13 on a runner by Edmondson and Morgan layup, while Southeastern did not score from 9:51 to 4:37. A three-point play by Woods and three-point basket by Cohen knotted the halftime score at 22-22.
The Lions were able to stretch their legs in the last half though, starting with a three-point play by center Jonathan Walker for a lead that State never erased. Green hit a three-ball, Cohen slipped in for a backdoor layup, and Woods scored a rebound for a 37-27 margin at 13:06. The Bulldogs could not chop the deficit any closer than six points, three times. The last was at 10:25 on a three-point play by Delk, who would later register his team's lone trey.
But the Lions answered in kind and by the five-minute mark their lead was a dozen, 50-38, which spurred some of the crowd toward the exits. Mississippi State got no closer again than 54-46 with only 93 seconds left to run out.
Morgan was the only Dog shooting better than break-even, making 5-of-9 for ten points to go with his 21 rebounds. It was the most boards by a Bulldog since all-American Lawrence Roberts at Alabama in 2004, and Morgan's second-straight ‘double double' effort. "It doesn't matter," he said. "We lost."
"Tonight was an exciting night for our team to come in and beat a SEC school," Lion Coach Jim Yarbrough said. "We also know Mississippi State is going to get better, it was probably a good time to play them." A month from now it could be a different story."
Stansbury can't look a month ahead, as his already-weary team has to play Wednesday night against New Orleans…and then again Saturday afternoon against Santa Clara. He said Rhodes should be activated for Wednesday, but Slater and Stelmach are doubtful as both still have swollen ankles. And Delk is not likely to play until December 10. That is the target date that State hopes for sophomore center Walter Sharpe to regain eligibility, after next week's final fall exams.
If there had been any hint of such early-season issues the coach might not have put together this hectic schedule with seven games in two weeks. But this can't be changed now. "That's the way it is," Stansbury said. "Nobody is going to cancel any games and feel sorry for us."