Mississippi State men’s basketball coach Ben Howland shared his excitement on Saturday of football winding down as attention shifts to college basketball.
But in Sunday’s sluggish start en route to an eventual 81-76 loss for MSU against Minnesota in Starkville, Howland’s team was doing its best to mimic a battle on the gridiron.
Minnesota jumped out to 7-0 lead within the first three minutes of the game, forcing MSU head coach Ben Howland to take a timeout.
Out of the break, Minnesota piled on another touchdown to extend its lead to 14-0.
“It’s unlike us,” State forward Garrison Brooks said. “We’re a better team than that.”
The slow start wound up being costly, despite MSU’s efforts to claw back.
Mississippi State went the final 9:50 of the first half trailing by single digits but struggling to gain momentum toward a lead or tie. A Brooks banked-in 3-pointer to end the first half sent MSU into the locker room with a three-point deficit.
MSU tried to create momentum in the second half by keeping the game within single digits, but 13 points by Minnesota’s Jamison Battle in the opening five minutes helped Minnesota regain its double-figure lead.
The deficit stayed within 6-to-14 points for about the next 10 minutes of game play. Behind point guard Iverson Molinar, MSU kept scratching back.
Mississippi State finally tied the game with 41 seconds to go after a pair of and-1 conversions by Molinar.
But tying the game was the best Mississippi State was going to get in a game it never led in and likely didn’t deserve to.
The dagger came on Minnesota’s ensuing possession with Payton Willis hitting a contested 3-pointer to regain the lead.
“We had a chance in the end,” Brooks said. “Willis made a tough shot. He’s a really good player. That’s just credit to them.”
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The domino effect of MSU’s early struggles veered its head as MSU made a last-ditch effort to tie the game through Molinar.
Mississippi State burned its final timeout with 12:37 to go in the game — a result of MSU having to call timeouts early to stop the bleeding of the opening 14-0 run.
“It hurt us,” Howland said. “But we wouldn’t have been in that situation where we actually needed them if we hadn’t taken them early in the game.”
Howland said he wasn’t pleased with the 3-pointer Molinar put up following Willis’ make, saying it was too rushed for his liking.
Molinar led all scorers with 26 points, but Howland said his point guard’s lone struggle was from deep where Molinar shot 2 of 11.
Mississippi State is 0-2 this season against Power Five schools after losing to Louisville last week in the Bahamas.
MSU is back in action on Dec. 11 for the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic in Fort Worth, Texas, against Colorado State.