January 14, 2018 12:12:58 AM
Brett Hudson - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- A week ago Saturday, the Mississippi State men's basketball team took to the road to face Ole Miss. MSU coach Ben Howland saw a team that had yet to learn how to make the key plays down the stretch to close out a game.
One week later, those lessons have not been learned.
MSU saw an 11-point halftime lead and 13-point lead 90 seconds after that evaporate to the No. 22 team in the nation as Auburn (16-1, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) beat MSU 76-68. It was MSU's third consecutive loss after upsetting Arkansas to start SEC play, dropping the Bulldogs to 1-3 in conference and 13-4 overall.
The team has yet to settle on an answer to the problem, but its leading scorer presented one possibility.
"We have to come out in the second half and not be so nonchalant," junior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon said. "The whole game, we came out nonchalant in the second half. We don't play the second half like we play the first half.
"Sometimes we leave the half with a lead and I think us having that lead, we let our guard down sometimes. I think that's why we have those slow starts coming out of halftime."
Howland countered, "I certainly hope not. Maybe it felt like that to him. I certainly hope not, but I'll study the film."
Several factors do point to second-half effort as an issue, if not the primary issue.
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said MSU had, "a terrific scout. Everything I was trying to do, they had." When Pearl described his halftime talk, he did not mention tactical adjustments; he mentioned accountability.
MSU freshman forward Abdul Ado saw the effects of it ruin his second consecutive and third career double-double. Ado scored 10 to go with 11 rebounds, two blocks and two assists.
"It was consistent with what they were doing in the first half," Ado said of the Auburn offense. "In the first half we did a better job of playing defense, being aggressive and being active, but in the second half we were just kind of laid back and settled because we had a eight- or nine-point lead, which we shouldn't be doing. Whoever we're playing, we have to keep playing with the same intensity."
Auburn took advantage by making seven of its eight shot attempts over a six-minute stretch that took MSU from leading by five to trailing by six; then MSU missed its next three shots.
The result of it all was a loss following a first half that Howland described as, "our best half of basketball this year."
That first half saw Weatherspoon and junior forward Aric Holman lead the team offensively, as they normally do, with help from freshman guard Nick Weatherspoon and his sophomore counterpart Lamar Peters. Quinndary Weatherspoon finished with a team high 14 points, followed by 11 from Holman and 10 each from Ado, Nick Weatherspoon and Peters, who fouled out after 21 minutes on the floor. The Weatherspoon brothers had three assists each and Holman added two blocks.
Now MSU has to host Vanderbilt on Tuesday before consecutive road games at Alabama and Kentucky knowing exactly what it has to fix, or else meet a similar result. Howland has an idea of what he wants to see.
"Keep the foot on the gas, keep being aggressive, but at the same time, make good decisions," Howland said. "There were a few times where we're driving to the basket and they're coming over, and we've had this problem a few times, where we're trying to score with two guys on us.
"I think we're young but we can learn from it and learn to protect leads a little better."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson