By MATTHEW STEVENS
In a game that seemed to define offensive ineptitude, the Mississippi State women’s basketball program saw Thursday night’s performance with another all-to familiar word.
Mississippi State’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.
“This has to be the next step which is putting yourself in a position to win,” 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 MSU’s fate.
“Now 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,” 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 Bulldogs’ first nine points of the evening. It wasn’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.
“The second half she had some good looks,” Fanning-Otis said. “She's got to step up in this. She can score on some folks.”
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.
“The three that Alley hit with 2 minutes left was the difference,” Auburn head coach Nell Fortner said. “It was a big shot for her and the team fed off that.”
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), State’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.
“They’re always low-scoring, not pretty games here in Starkville and I really don’t know why that is,” Fortner said. “I'm just glad to win it.”
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.
“It’s a learning experience but a different game with us not being down 20 this time and having to come back in this game,” Johnson said. “We have to work on the confidence of finishing.”
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.
State’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.