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By MATTHEW STEVENS
In a game that seemed to define offensive ineptitude, the Mississippi State womenâ€™s basketball program saw Thursday nightâ€™s performance with another all-to familiar word.
Mississippi Stateâ€™s Southeastern Conference losing streak has now reached five in a row and sixth straight overall after dropping a 45-41 decision to an Auburn team that simply find a bit more offensive success when baskets were at a premium Thursday night.
â€śThis has to be the next step which is putting yourself in a position to win,â€ť MSU head coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said.
The Lady Bulldogs (8-9, 0-5 in SEC play) made two of its last 17 shots and went without a bucket for a crucial 7-minute stretch that sealed MSUâ€™s fate.
â€śNow we know we need to get in the gym and shoot more to give us a better chance to win a close game like this,â€ť MSU guard Portia Porter said.
In a first half that saw both teams commit more turnovers than made field goals, Mississippi State relied on the inside scoring of junior center Catina Bett for a 22-16 lead after 20 minutes of play.
Bett, a transfer from the University of Kentucky, had the Lady Bulldogsâ€™ first nine points of the evening. It wasnâ€™t until a converted jump shot from junior Diamber Johnson with 8:09 left in the half when a MSU player other than Bett registered a mark in the scoring column.
The problem for the MSU 6-foot-5 post player would be in the second half when she was settling and missing for turnaround fadeaway jump shots.
â€śThe second half she had some good looks,â€ť Fanning-Otis said. â€śShe's got to step up in this. She can score on some folks.â€ť
Auburn was led by the veteran leadership of senior guard Ali Smalley as the 5-foot-8 guard get her season average of 11 points after failing to score a single point in the first half of play.
â€śThe three that Alley hit with 2 minutes left was the difference,â€ť Auburn head coach Nell Fortner said. â€śIt was a big shot for her and the team fed off that.â€ť
Despite being able to maintain its defensive prowess as compared to the rest of the league (holding teams to just 57.3 coming into the game with Auburn), Stateâ€™s lack of offensive firepower was revealed again as they failed to top the 60-point mark in another loss.
The 41-point total wasn't only the lowest this season at Humphrey Coliseum but just the third-lowest by this MSU team in a loss after the Lady Bulldogs put up 36 at Xavier and 44 to open up SEC play at Vanderbilt.
â€śTheyâ€™re always low-scoring, not pretty games here in Starkville and I really donâ€™t know why that is,â€ť Fortner said. â€śI'm just glad to win it.â€ť
The Lady Bulldogs were careless with the basketball as evidenced by 20 turnovers and was unable to get started in its offensive sets until late in the 30-second shot clock.
â€śItâ€™s a learning experience but a different game with us not being down 20 this time and having to come back in this game,â€ť Johnson said. â€śWe have to work on the confidence of finishing.â€ť
Auburn (12-7, 5-1) was able to turn the game into a transition battle by picking up the tempo off defensive rebounds into several fast break opportunities.
Stateâ€™s two leading scorers (Johnson and Mary Kathryn Govero) were held in check to eight points on a combined 4-of-22 shooting from the floor.
Johnson had to come out of the game after severely pulling her hamstring but the junior guard would return for the final 4 minutes of play.
Mississippi State will try for its first SEC victory in Athens, Geo., when they take on Georgia Sunday in 2 p.m. tip.