After COVID-19 complications postponed their original matchup in early January, Missouri and Mississippi State now have a unique challenge. The two sides will face off twice in three days, with this first meeting having taken place in Starkville. The Bulldogs will come to Columbia on Sunday for round two, making up for the postponed January meeting.
Once a team with great tournament aspirations, Mississippi State was just attempting to tread water tonight following a 4-game losing streak. In their defense, they had played four of the SEC’s top teams (Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU, and Alabama) in that span, losing by a combined 26 points in those outings. Still, there is virtually no room for error for the Bulldogs if they wanted a shot at the NCAA Tournament.
Similarly, Mizzou was searching for a bounce-back win after Arkansas completed the sweep over the Tigers in emphatic fashion on Tuesday night. Mizzou had already taken down MSU’s Egg Bowl counterpart twice this season, and were aiming to continue their dominance over the state.
On top of all of that, MSU sat just one game ahead of Mizzou in the SEC standings, meaning that this weekend’s meetings would carry a lot of weight.
Neither side got out to a quick start offensively, but Mizzou held a slight edge thanks to some key hustle plays from Ronnie DeGray (5 rebounds, 1 steal on the game) and Trevon Brazile.
Then, the wheels fell off a bit. A 4-minute scoring drought with a couple turnovers sprinkled in allowed the Bulldogs to take a 16-12 lead into the under eight minute timeout. At this point, neither team was shooting above 30% from the floor, but Mizzou allowed MSU to get easy buckets thanks to the turnovers.
Mississippi State held a comfortable lead for the rest of the half, and even extended it as the minutes wanned. The Tigers shot an ice cold 25% from the field and turned the ball over seven times, which is a recipe for the eleven point deficit they faced at the half.
“We were rushing shots, we weren’t taking it strong to the hoop,” Ronnie DeGray III said. “I think we were trying to draw fouls more than make the shots.”
DeGray and Javon Pickett were the clear-cut stars of the half for Missouri. DeGray had eight points and five rebounds, while Pickett led the scoring with nine. Kobe Brown had a rough half (0/3 from the field) however, and the team as a whole just looked sluggish in the opening period.
The second half started out similarly to the first. Hustle plays and offensive rebounds could only get Missouri so far, especially when shots were just not falling. As a result, the Bulldogs maintained a 10-point lead at the under twelve timeout.
Another scoring drought of roughly three minutes ensued until Ronnie DeGray converted a traditional 3-point play. Still, Mizzou proceeded to score two points in the final four minutes, and Mississippi State ran away with this game. The final score read 68-49 in favor of MSU.
It is really hard to win a game when you make only sixteen shots. You could also point at the thirteen turnovers or 17.6% shooting effort from three as the other stats that explained this outcome. The effort and defense was there tonight, but the offensive execution was not. Some of this could be caused by travel complications, but this is a common theme of the season regardless.
“Thought our guys gave great effort, it just seemed like we ran out of gas,” Cuonzo Martin said postgame. “They did a really good job of pounding the ball inside.”
The trio of DeGray, Pickett and Trevon Brazile kept this team in the game, as they combined for 24 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks on the night. But, as has become a trend, when Kobe Brown and Boogie Coleman struggle (4/17 from the field), so does this team.
“It was a tough day at the office,” DeGray said.
The Tigers will come back home to Mizzou Arena for round two against the Bulldogs on Sunday, February 20th. Tune in at 7:00 CST on the SEC Network for that matchup. Mizzou will then have to turn around and host Tennessee (arguably the hottest team in the conference) on Tuesday night.
“With rest, and then watching a bit of film, we’ll be fine,” Martin said. “I’m looking forward to it (the rematch).”