Vanderbilt must continue its search for an SEC win.
The Commodores could not shake off a slow start against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, and the team fell 71-55 on Saturday night at Memorial Gym.
Vanderbilt took over four minutes to score their first points of the game and started off 2-19 from the field.
Despite the Commodores’ initial shooting woes, head coach Bryce Drew did not believe that Vanderbilt was guilty of any major flaws on offense.
“We had three really good looks at the rim, two really good looks from three, and we had zero points to show for it, but I was happy with how we started that,” said Drew.
Although the Commodores began to find their offensive rhythm in the latter stages of the first half, Mississippi State seemed to always have a response. After a brief 5-0 run, Vanderbilt narrowed the score to 23-18. However, Mississippi State immediately responded with a mini run of their own and raced to a 35-23 lead.
By halftime, Vanderbilt closed Mississippi State’s lead to eight. However, the the team’s youth and inexperience still seemed to get the best of them in the second half. The Commodores turned the ball over 14 times, which led to 18 Mississippi State points, and shot a mere 54% (14-26) from the free throw line.
“Unfortunately, I can’t create any drills or anything in practice that equals experience,” said Drew. “A lot of the times, we do it well in practice, but then we get into the game, and it’s usually underclassmen that just don’t make those simple plays from practice.”
While Mississippi State had few highlight-reel plays and only one scorer with more than 15 points, the Bulldogs used their balance and discipline to expand their lead throughout the second half.
A fast-break layup by Reggie Perry gave Mississippi State a 57-39 lead with 8:01 left in the game, and the Bulldogs cruised from that point on. Although Vanderbilt’s energy level seemed to drop as the Bulldogs continued to add to their lead, Drew did not believe that a lack of effort contributed to the loss.
“I don’t want to say we didn’t play hard,” said Coach Drew. “They were just a lot faster than us tonight.”
Even though the game ended in a rout, one reason for optimism is that Vanderbilt’s young players continued to gain valuable experience. In fact, the second half saw three new players start for Vanderbilt.
“We are trying to lay the bottom for these guys, of non-negotiables and things we want this program to be going forward,” said Coach Drew. “That’s why you saw certain people start the second half that didn’t start the game. We are going to build that bottom, so at least we know that bottom is not going to fall out.”
Maintaining a strong foundation and continuing to sharpen execution will both be essential as Vanderbilt looks ahead to its next game against Tennessee, one of the top-ranked teams in the country, on January 23.