STARKVILLE, Miss. – Mississippi State put five players in double figures, but could not maintain a 13-point first half lead Sunday afternoon in an 82-74 setback to Auburn in the SEC home opener.
The Bulldogs committed a season-high 26 turnovers and allowed 82 points defensively for a second-straight game.
It all added up to a difficult afternoon in the Southeastern Conference home opener as Mississippi State fell to 13-3 overall and 0-2 in league play.
With the victory, Auburn improved to 10-4 overall and 1-0 in conference play.
“Other than the last three minutes of the first half and first five minutes of the second, I thought we were very competitive and played well,” MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. “You have to play hard, play smart and play together. I thought the team grew up a little bit. We didn’t come out ready to play to start the second half.”
MSU started the contest strong, scoring the game’s first two baskets and quickly sprinting to a 10-2 advantage on a jumper by Breanna Richardson. The Bulldogs again claimed eight-point leads at 18-10 and 20-12.
After Auburn closed within 22-18, MSU used defensive pressure to reel off nine-straight points. Kendra Grant hit a pair of free throws to create a 31-18 advantage with 6:36 left in the half. The lead grew to a game-best 13 points for MSU at 33-20 on two free throws by Katia May with 4:23 left in the half.
Auburn ended the half with a 13-3 run to pull within 36-33 at the intermission.
In the second half, Auburn used its full-court press to turn the contest around. The Bulldogs had seven turnovers during a game-changing 12-0 run. In less than three minutes time, Auburn used that run to build a 51-42 lead with 13:22 left in the contest.
“I like how we responded in the second half after we played so poorly to start the second half,” Schaefer said. “You can’t have all of those turnovers. You can’t defend the other team when they are laying it in. We handled the press well in the first half. They had a different energy in the second half and we didn’t attack the press well.
“Our zone was good in the second half. The kids really competed. It’s okay to make mistakes if you are going to learn from them, grow from them and fix them. Now we have to fix the mistakes.”
The Bulldogs overcame the slow start to pull within three at 66-63 on a jumper by Grant with 3:52 left. The Bulldogs missed their next three shots from the floor and got no closer.
“Against Florida, we didn’t come out ready to play,” MSU freshman Dominique Dillingham said. “In this game, we weren’t ready for the second half. We just have to find a way to put two halves together.”
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 23 of 57 shots from the field (40.4 percent), 2 of 12 shots from 3-point range (16.7 percent) and 26 of 32 shots from the foul line (81.3 percent). The Tigers hit 29 of 56 shots from the field (51.8 percent), 2 of 6 shots from 3-point range (33.3 percent) and 22 of 32 shots from the foul line (68.8 percent).
MSU held a 36-34 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 17 assists and 26 turnovers, while the Tigers had 17 assists and 25 turnovers.
After struggling in Thursday’s SEC opener at Florida, Martha Alwal led MSU with 18 points and six rebounds. Richardson and Grant each had 14 points, while Dillingham and May each had 10 points.
Ketara Chapel added six rebounds, while May had six assists.
Auburn received a game-high 24 points from Tyrese Tanner. Also in double figures for AU were Brandy Montgomery with 13 points, and Tra’Cee Tanner, Hasina Muhammad and Peyton Davis with 10 apiece.MSU has its first of two open dates Thursday before heading to Fayetteville to meet Arkansas at 2 p.m. Sunday.