Mississippi State had as many turnovers as it did missed free throws in its season opener Wednesday night.
Considering that number was 19, it was a suboptimal result for the Bulldogs.
“Shooting 8-of-27 from the foul line is obviously atrocious,” MSU coach Ben Howland said postgame. “It’s the key stat of the game. How we could be 8-for-27 is mind-boggling. I know I’ve never had a team shoot that poorly, so obviously it’s on me. We have to spend way more time on foul shooting than we are. If we just make 75 percent of our shots, it’s a two-point game in the last few minutes.
“Nineteen turnovers is way too many turnovers. Some of that is youth and just not executing. We had a lot of moving screens today. It’s hard to have your first game being against a really good ACC team like Clemson.”
Missing Iverson Molinar from the lineup, MSU dropped a 53-42 contest to Clemson in the Space Coast Challenge in Melbourne, Fla. The 42 points scored was the fewest in a single game by a MSU team in the Ben Howland era. The previous low was 48 against Vanderbilt in the 2016-17 season.
“(Getting better on offense) has to happen in a hurry and we have to do a better job,” Howland said. “We were playing against a really good team and a really good defensive team. We’ve been in the top 20 in offensive efficiency the last few years as a team. We’ll get there, we’ll gel. Obviously it will help when we get Iverson back because it gives us an experienced guy who can make plays for himself and others. In the meantime, we have to find a way.”
Molinar, a sophomore guard who was expected to be a central cog of the MSU lineup, was not available Wednesday for an undisclosed reason and will not play in Thursday’s matchup against Liberty. Howland said he hopes to have Molinar back in the lineup on Dec. 4.
Neither team was efficient offensively from the get go, as the Tigers started 0-of-10 from beyond the arc, while MSU went 2-of-11 from the charity stripe in the first half. As a team, the Bulldogs shot 30 percent from the floor and held Clemson to 35 percent shooting.
Tolu Smith picked up a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, while D.J. Stewart chipped in 12 points and six rebounds.
“We’re a young core, so in time we’ll be able to play a lot better,” Smith said. “There were a lot of first game jitters, even for myself. I feel like in time, we’ll be able to gel better.”
MSU will face Liberty at 5 p.m. Thursday, which was defeated by Purdue 77-64 in the early game Wednesday. If the Bulldogs win the contest, it will be career win No. 500 for Howland.
Hodge is the former sports editor for The Dispatch.