STARKVILLE – Rick Ray simply is a big picture type of coach.
And while it may be confusing to some for when the Mississippi State coach continues to speak about his team’s defensive breakdowns after a game in which they score 49 points, defense will continue to be the primary focus.
“In the second half, they shot 55 percent from the field,” Ray said during the radio post-game interview after MSU’s 55-49 loss at Vanderbilt Saturday. “It doesn’t matter what our worries are on offense. If you make stops on the defensive end in the second half, you have a chance to win the game.”
Ray understands the margin of error for MSU (13-8, 3-5 in Southeastern Conference) is so thin that suffocating defense is the only way they’re going to break its current 13-game road losing streak.
“I actually think our defense was good when it was set,” Ray said Saturday. “What I mean when I focus on getting stops defensively is it bleeds into everything else. When we get stops, it doesn’t allow the defense to set up in zone because teams don’t typically always run down the floor and get into a zone.”
MSU is 13th in the SEC in field goal percentage defense as opponents have been able to shoot at 46 percent clip in eight league games. Bulldogs freshman point guard IJ Ready said this fact has set into motion a effort to reverse this trend and hopefully see MSU’s road woes stop at the same time.
“When you look at the percentages and the coaches show us what happens when a opponent shoots over 50 percent in a half in their own building, it usually means bad things for us,” Ready said. “We’ve got to be in sync and playing with heart on defense to get a win on the road. That’s so key for us right now.”
Ray said a main reason for the defensive breakdowns Saturday at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville was the Bulldogs inability to limit turnovers. MSU had 18 giveaways against a Commodores team that led to 24 Vanderbilt points. No matter how solid the MSU half-court defense was proving itself to be, the transition element following a turnover put everything into instant chaos.
“Kevin Stallings is a superior basketball coach in preparing his team for matchups and he did a spectacular job with his team this past weekend,” Ray said. “However, we couldn’t stop giving away possessions at critical times and then having that momentum carry into a transition basket on the other end.”
Texas A&M (12-9, 3-5) have dropped their last five games and is the worst shooting team in the league. The players entered practice Monday with the mindset of trying to get mentally correct by restarting the good vibes after the overtime win over the Aggies last month. In a 81-72 overtime victory, MSU allowed A&M to shoot 61.9 percent in the second half but forced 15 turnovers that led to 18 points on the other end including 16 fast break points.
“I can remember that game like it was yesterday because I don’t think there’s any doubt we were emotionally higher than we’d ever been this season after that win over A&M and then following it up with Auburn here,” MSU sophomore center Gavin Ware said.
Transition baskets seem to be the only source of consistent success for MSU right now during this losing skid as opponents are forcing a poor shooting Bulldogs team to see non-stop zone defenses.
“When we get out in transition, we can get any kind of look we want offensively,” Ware said. “We know that we can get out on the break and get easy buckets than everything else because easier.”
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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