Staring down a 16-point deficit with 6:06 remaining, the Stephen F. Austin men's basketball team staged a furious comeback attempt by swishing five three-pointers through the final 3:10, but Mississippi State's lead proved insurmountable as the 'Jacks dropped an 80-75 decision to the Bulldogs inside Humphrey Coliseum.
The owners of an eight-point advantage at the break, the 'Jacks found themselves unable to keep up with a reinvigorated Mississippi State squad that opened the final frame on a 33-12 run that SFA could not fully answer. Shannon Bogues impressed yet again, dropping in 20 points while junior TJ Holyfield added 19 and finished two rebounds shy of a double-double.
"I felt like we let this one get away," SFA head coach Kyle Keller stated upon the 'Jacks' first setback of 2017-18. "Our effort was never in question, but in order to win a game like this our team has to understand that we must withstand a full 40-minutes of effort from an SEC team. We can be good and we'll use this as a learning experience."
As effective as the 'Jacks' offense was in the opening frame, it was anything but in the opening half of the final stanza. SFA was held without a field goal for a stretch of 10:09 in the deciding frame and while the 'Jacks struggled to get points the Bulldogs received 25 of them to open up a 57-46 edge with 8:42 left.
Controlling tempo with a heavy helping of in-your-face half defense - as well as a big-time dose of Bogues' scoring touch - the 'Jacks got the better of the Bulldogs through the opening 20 minutes of action. Bogues finished with 13 points in the frame to lead all scorers.
Nick Weatherspoon drilled a three-pointer 1:19 into the SEC-Southland showdown to push the home team ahead 3-0, but his was the lone triple that dropped for Mississippi State in the opening half of action. The Bulldogs connected on just 11.1-percent (1-of-9) of their long-range tries, but thrived at the foul line to make sure the 'Jacks were unable to gain a great deal of distance.
Mississippi State converted 15 of its 20 tries at the foul line through the opening 20 minutes while the 'Jacks hit all four of their tries from that distance in the same span.
Back-to-back scores from Bogues pushed the 'Jacks ahead for the first time, 4-3, before the Bulldogs answered with a Tyson Carter layup. The 'Jacks' defense - in the form of Aaron Augustin - then stepped to the forefront to push the visitors ahead for the remainder of the half. Augustin came up with a pair of steals and finished both times with layups to make matters 8-5 with 14:20 to go in the opening frame.
SFA maintained the lead for the majority of the frame, but runs of 5-0 and 7-0 by Mississippi State kept the Bulldogs in the running. The latter scoring spree came almost single-handedly by Quinndary Weatherspoon who put in three free throws and a dunk to help his team take a 28-26 lead with 3:41 left in the half.
That lead did not last for long, however, as SFA concluded the half on a 14-4 run. The 'Jacks' points came exclusively from the trio of Holyfield, Ivan Canete and Leon Gilmore III and helped the visitors open up a 40-32 lead at the break. Both Holyfield and Canete dropped in a three-pointer during the surge while GIlmore III added two of his four first-half free throws.
Up 40-32 at the break, SFA watched Mississippi State connect on 66.7-percent (16-of-24) of its field goals in the final frame. That shooting clip included a 55.6-percent (5-of-9) showing from downtown and leading the charge was Tyson Carter who pumped in 19 of his game-high 25 points through the final 20 minutes.
Canete started SFA's comeback bid with a pair of three pointers that trimmed the Bulldogs' lead to just eight, 72-64, with 2:36 left. After fouling out on the ensuing Mississippi State possession, Canete turned things over to Bogues and Holyfield who combined for three more triples which pulled SFA within three, 78-75, with 15 ticks left.
The Bulldogs staved off SFA's comeback bid for good by hitting eight of their final 10 free throws down the stretch.
Canete finished with 15 while Gilmore III added 12 for the 'Jacks. Quinndary Weatherspoon sprung for 20 while his brother, Nick, added 15 in the Bulldogs' win. Mississippi State also blocked 10 shots, severely limiting the 'Jacks' effectiveness on the interior.
The 'Jacks will have to wait until the weekend to try and get back in the win column. Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m., SFA welcomes first-time opponent Florida A&M to William R. Johnson Coliseum for a non-conference showdown.