The defeat extended Mississippi State’s already-record league losing string to a dozen, as the Bulldogs are 7-19 and 2-12 SEC. Vanderbilt continued its recent hot-and-cold cycle with the win, leving 11-15 and 5-9.
By now most Bulldogs should be numbed by streaks and such. Still this setback managed to sting a squad already battered by a long season. State managed just 18% shooting for the afternoon, on the home court. And not a single Dog scored in double-digits, which has officials scrambling through past box scores for precedents.
Coach Rick Ray’s immediate response? “He couldn’t really say nothing,” reported guard Jalen Steele. “He was mad. Just as me, I’m mad with him.”
Once out of the locker room Ray was more talkative, though still frustrated by another home blowout. Ten days ago it was Missouri romping 78-36. But after a decent second half at LSU, and a competitive loss at Alabama, the coach thought his team had made some progress. “So to come out and play this way against Vanderbilt is disappointing.”
The Commodores weren’t let down at all by their fast start. From a 2-2 tie, they reeled off 13 unanswered points. “We weren’t very competitive,” said State center Gavin Ware in the day’s understatement. Not on defense where Vanderbilt shot 47% in the first half, and far less at the other end. After Ware’s free throws at 18:10 there were no further Bulldog points until 10:52…and those were also free throws.
The first Bulldog basket required almost eleven minutes, coming on a Trivante Bloodman layup at 9:09. By then Vanderbilt had built a 17-point lead, allowing some of the 4,087 attending to leave early and watch batting practice across the street at Dudy Noble Field.
“A team is supposed to play better at home,” Steele said.
A Vanderbilt team that had been 1-5 in SEC road games looked far better than their record. “That was simply a case of us getting off to a good start and never really giving them an opportunity to recover,” Coach Kevin Stallings said. “I thought our guys were real sharp.”
The ‘Dores certainly were the sharper shooters, and Kevin Bright’s game-leading 15 points were as much luck of the draw as any plan to get him the ball. It was a good reaction though because Bright nailed 5-of-6 shots from beyond the arc for all his markers. Forward Rod Odom made a pair of threes and scored 13 points, Sheldon Jeter came off the bench for 11 points and a trey; while three more Commodores hit from long range, an 11-of-31 overall effort.
“I wouldn’t say we’re an offensive juggernaut but we’ve gotten better,” Stallings said. “We’ve felt our offense is coming.”
Ray actually thought his team began with the right defensive approach, getting out on the first or second possible shooters. “Then they went to the high ball screen and we simply didn’t guard it at all.”
“It was really the high ball-screens,” agreed Steele. “Every time we screened the guard they’d switch it another way, we couldn’t get over there because it was hard to fight through the two screens. We went over it in practice, but we have to carry it over.”
What had Ray most upset wasn’t even his own team’s sad shooting, but a monstrous 51-17 beating on the backboards. Vanderbilt scored no less than 24 second-chance points; the Bulldogs had zero.
“You expected it to be a huge disappointment when you shoot 18%, but the rebounds are unacceptable,” Ray said. The leading rebounder for State was Team with four of those unaccounted caroms; forward Colin Borchert and guard Fred Thomas had three each. By contrast Vanderbilt’s Dai-Jon Parker cleaned the glass 13 times, 12 off MSU misses.
Steele, who came off a three-game suspension Wednesday and still isn’t back in the starting lineup, led State with nine points and one of the team’s two treys. Thomas and Sword had six points each but were a combined 2-of-13 shooting. Ware managed five points but took only two shots in 30 minutes. The Commodores borrowed from Missouri’s success against State by sagging around Ware and just letting others take—and miss—from outside.
“This has happened to us twice here now at home. It boils down to Vanderbilt and Missouri made open shots, and we don’t,” Ray said. State was 2-of-19 at the arc.
The season has long been lost, so now all the Bulldogs have to play for is pride and development. They would certainly want to stop the losing streak too, before it reaches a real record territory. The longest stretch ever at State is 14-straight defeats, all the way back in 1955. No current Dog wants his name attached to such a record.
“As we continue to play something’s got to change,” Ware said. “We’ve got to find some way we can produce on the defensive and the offensive end.”
State is at Kentucky this Wednesday for a 7:00 game, then hosts Ole Miss next Saturday at 4:00.