Mississippi State has found a comfort in the confines of Bon Secours Wellness Arena in recent years. It’s a place the Bulldogs have reached the Southeastern Conference tournament finals each of the past five seasons. It’s the place where two years ago coach Vic Schaefer earned his first conference title with a thumping of Arkansas.
Thursday, though, the Greenville, South Carolina-based arena proved a house of horrors. After being run off the floor by Missouri at Humphrey Coliseum over the weekend, MSU (10-9, 5-7 SEC) exited the SEC tournament in its first game of the week for the first time since 2015, falling to eighth-seeded LSU (9-12, 6-8 SEC) 71-62.
“I mean, we just came off a loss, so of course everybody is a little emotional right now,” junior guard Myah Taylor said through a hushed and somber tone. “Have to move on. Have to move on and get better.”
For a team that’s made a sport of slogging through opening frames, the Bulldogs were locked in early. MSU shot just 33.3 percent from the floor in the opening frame, but four Tiger turnovers gave Nikki McCray-Penson’s squad the lead at the end of the first quarter — marking the first time since Jan. 28 the Bulldogs have led after the opening 10 minutes.
Yet as has been the case all too often this winter, MSU failed to build off its momentum. With the defense breaking down and the offense continuing its lackluster ways, LSU rode a 15-4 run through the end of the first quarter and into the second. The Tigers went on to score 15 of the first 19 points of the frame, watching their lead balloon to as many as eight ahead of halftime.
A week ago, it was a dynamic third quarter that spurred MSU’s late charge to a confidence-building win over LSU in Baton Rouge. Thursday, though, the Bulldogs looked the part of a team whose season-long frustrations reached a boiling point.
After a brief exchange during a dead ball, sophomore JaMya Mingo-Young and LSU guard Khayla Pointer exchanged words before being separated by Tigers head coach Nikki Fargas and a gaggle of teammates. Tagged with a technical and a personal foul in the moment, the brushup fouled out Mingo-Young, who otherwise turned in her most energetic and productive outing in two months.
Rather than respond off the outburst, MSU wilted down the stretch. Sophomore Rickea Jackson continued to struggle offensively, shooting just 5 of 14 from the floor while notching a team-high three turnovers.
Classmate Aliyah Matharu was also held out of Thursday’s second half after she picked up a technical foul of her own. Postgame McCray-Penson said it was a “coach’s decision” not to play her and didn’t elaborate further.
Taylor, who’s proved a stalwart for the bulk of this season, found a brief spurt of offensive rhythm before the LSU bench — which totaled 34 combined points Thursday — slammed the door shut.
“LSU makes you play a certain way,” McCray-Penson said. “I thought when we were at their place we controlled the tempo. They really controlled the tempo of this game.”
Having dropped seven of its last nine games, MSU looks like a shell of its former self. Thursday marked the ninth consecutive game the Bulldogs have fallen behind by double digits. MSU also hasn’t beaten a team with a winning record since a Dec. 31 win over No. 16 Georgia in Athens that looks as perplexing as any result in SEC competition this year.
Speaking on Thursday’s broadcast, ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme said MSU should be into the field, but a win over LSU would’ve made them feel safe. Instead, the Bulldogs head into the March 15 selection show sweating far more than any preseason prognosticator anticipated.
“Definitely I think that we’ve had some quality wins,” McCray-Penson said when asked whether she felt MSU is still a tournament team. “I think the fact that we had such a long break, I’m hoping that the committee would take that into consideration. That breaks the rhythm of any team, and that’s something that we just could not control.”