MAUI, Hawaii — Fred Thomas poured in a career-high 17 points, but the Mississippi State University men’s basketball team lost to Marquette 89-62 Tuesday afternoon at the EA Sports Maui Invitational at the Lahaina Civic Center.
The Bulldogs gave up the first eight points and trailed 18-4 after a 10-0 run by the Golden Eagles. The Bulldogs allowed 29 first-half points off turnovers and failed to recover.
“Marquette is a team that plays hard and with a lot of toughness,” MSU coach Rick Ray said. “They are going to compete on every possession. I don’t think we matched that intensity in the first half.”
With eight players in uniform, the Bulldogs had to battle through early foul troubles. A late-game injury to Roquez Johnson didn’t help matters.
“We have two major problems with our depth,” Ray said. “We can’t hold guys accountable if they aren’t playing hard and aren’t competing. Then our other issue is when we mount a good run, we get fatigued and worn down. It is hard on us when it becomes a game of attrition.”
Thomas was a bright spot for MSU (1-3). The freshman was 6 of 15 from the field, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range. He had one turnover, three rebounds, and a steal in 34 minutes.
“Fred has to make open shots for us,” Ray said. “He is a pure shooter. Sometimes, he gets too wrapped up in the shot, when he already has one he can make. He has to give us the same effort on the defensive end. However, we are going to get him there.”
Classmate Gavin Ware scored a career-high 11 points in 32 minutes. Ware has scored nine or more points in all four games. The former Starkville High School standout had six rebounds, a blocked shot, and a steal.
After surrendering the game’s first eight points, the Bulldogs cut that deficit in half. Marquette scored the game’s next 10 points. Again, the Bulldogs battled back to an 18-9 deficit. Marquette continued its early offensive tear and pushed the lead back out to 25-9.
A dunk by Roquez Johnson brought the Bulldogs within 25-14. Marquette scored the game’s next seven points, thanks in to part to 15 first-half turnovers for the Bulldogs.
Marquette (3-1) shot 57.6 percent from the field in the first half and led 48-27 at halftime. In the half, the Bulldogs had one assist and 15 turnovers.
“Our biggest problem on offense is our unwillingness to reverse the basketball,” Ray said. “We have guys who are looking for the killer play. We need the ball moving through the air more. That is how your break a defense down.”
In the second half, the Bulldogs got a spark from Johnson (16 points, three blocks, a steal, eight rebounds in 26 minutes). The Bulldogs closed within 57-40 but couldn’t get any closer. Still, the teams battled to almost even terms for most of the final half.
MSU hit 20 of 52 shots from the field (38.5 percent), 5 of 12 shots from 3-point range (41.7), and 17 of 23 shots from the free-throw line (73.9). Marquette hit 37 of 71 shots from the field (52.1), 7 of 11 shots from 3-point range (63.6), and 8 of 9 shots from the foul line (88.9).
Marquette held a 38-33 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had seven assists and 22 turnovers, while the Golden Eagles had 18 assists and 14 turnovers.
Vander Blue led Marquette with 18 points. Trent Lockett (13) and Jamil Wilson (11) also scored in double figures.
MSU will face the University of Texas in the seventh-place game of the tournament at 1:30 p.m. today (ESPNU).