If Mississippi State's previous two Southeastern Conference losses this season were slight bumps in the road, Sunday might've been a major pothole for the Bulldogs that leaves State trying to make sure it can keep things between the lines.
The No. 14 Bulldogs were handled easily by No. 7 Texas A&M by a final score of 69-41. MSU scored only three first quarter points and despite a brief surge over the second quarter and first few moments after halftime, the Bulldogs were simply outmatched by the Aggies.
"We just did not play well tonight at all," State head coach Nikki McCray-Penson said. "We just didn't play well. It is that simple."
MSU's uninspired effort started from the opening tip. The Bulldogs (8-4, 3-3) found themselves trailing 14-3 after the first quarter. State made only one of its 13 shots from the field over the game's first 10 minutes and things never did really get much better for the Bulldogs. They finished shooting just 27 percent as a team overall.
"We knew that (Texas A&M was) going to change defenses against us," McCray-Penson said. "You know we've been working two days (in practice) against it and we just act like we didn't know what was happening."
The bright spots were few and far between for the Bulldogs on Sunday as the Aggies (13-1, 5-1) rolled. One MSU positive was the play of Myah Taylor. The junior guard led State with 14 points. She was 3-for-8 from three-point range and also had a couple of rebounds and assists.
"I thought Taylor was the only one really in that starting lineup that was hooked up, ready to play this ball game and she played very well," Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair said. "She gave us a lot of problems. The others are great players it just wasn't their day."
Rickea Jackson was the only other Bulldog that scored in double figures. She finished with 11 points. Aliyah Matharu added seven points and no other State player had more than five.
The end result of it all? MSU's third loss in its last five games. And one of those two wins came in a contest that nearly slipped away against instate rival Ole Miss.
It has been a couple of weeks of turbulence for State to say the least with Sunday being the most concerning outing of them all. Blair seemed to recognize as much in his postgame comments while also saying he thinks MSU's future is still in good hands.
"Folks that's not the Mississippi State that we all know and what they've earned over the last few years," Blair said. "Nikki will get them right back to where they've been."
There's little doubt though there is work to do for McCray-Penson to build her team into the unit she hopes they become. So what, in her mind, is holding State back?
"I think it's experience," McCray-Penson said. "Just again having young players, being a young team with players that didn't play a lot last year. We have three players that did play a lot that people are focused on and they know them well, but you've got to have a supporting cast.
"A lot of teams have a lot of veterans on their team – Texas A&M, to be exact. They are a veteran team. They bring in some experience. You know they've played in big games, all of those things. So now, we don't have as much experience that have played in games like this. We're still young basketball team."
And it's a young team that isn't afforded much of a chance to grow behind the scenes as they continue to get tossed into the fire of the SEC schedule. That continues in MSU's next game as the Bulldogs have an 11-day layoff before hosting perennial power South Carolina on January 28.
It's safe to say for the Bulldogs there is much to do and improve upon between now and then.
"There's not another group that I want to battle with," McCray-Penson said. "I think this team has a lot of potential. I think we're capable, and we have enough...We just have to commit to the things that we want every single day to continue to move forward and get better."