By JOEL COLEMAN
When Malik Newman stepped on the floor for his Mississippi State debut early in the first half of Monday night’s game against Southern University, a loud roar came from the nearly 6,000 fans inside Humphrey Coliseum.
By the end of the night, the cheers had stopped. Newman’s initial game as a Bulldog and MSU’s game against Southern didn’t exactly follow the script many had imagined.
Southern was the beneficiary of 19 Mississippi State turnovers, scoring 24 points off of them, as the Jaguars upended the Bulldogs 76-72 at Humphrey Coliseum.
“It’s a very disappointing loss against a team that I was really impressed with,” Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland said. “You have to credit their toughness for coming out and really taking it at us on our home floor.”
Newman played 17 minutes as he continues to rebound from a turf toe injury. The highly-touted freshman guard scored six points, shooting just 2-of-8 from the field, including 1-of-5 from beyond the 3-point line. He also struggled at the charity stripe, making just one of his six free throw attempts.
“I think it was just a bad night for me,” Newman said. “But I didn’t feel any pressure at all.”
Newman missed a pair of free throws with 0:46 seconds to play that could have tied the game at 74. Nine seconds later, Southern’s Chris Thomas hit a layup that gave the Jaguars their winning margin.
“The (free throws) felt good and I thought they were good, but unfortunately they weren’t,” Newman said. “I’ve just got to go back to the drawing board.”
Howland said that Newman is simply looking to get in a groove after sitting out for an extended period of time due to his injury.
“He is not himself yet,” Howland said. “This is his first game and he had not practiced in three weeks until (Sunday). In fairness to him, he was thrown in for a tough situation against a team who had really good guards.”
Craig Sword scored 16 points and Gavin Ware totaled 13 for Mississippi State, but the Bulldogs couldn’t overcome their blunders and cold second-half shooting. MSU shot just 29.4 percent in the second half, finishing the game at 38.3 percent.
Southern shot 46.8 percent, including a 56.7 percent clip in the first half to draw the ire of Howland.
“Our biggest issue was our defense,” Howland said. “We allow them to shoot (nearly) 57 percent in the first half when we should be playing our best defense. We really had issues and we’ve got to get back to teaching just real simple concepts because we’re struggling when we go to help defensively, rotating down and letting them getting second-chance put-backs.”
Three Jaguars scored in double figures. Trelun Banks scored 18 points, Adrian Rodgers tallied 16 and Jared Sam had 10 to push Southern to the victory.
“We worked very hard because we think we have a pretty good group of guys that, any given night, can come in and play to the best of their ability and compete,” Southern head coach Roman Banks said.
Southern held the lead for much of the night. The Jaguars led by as many as seven in the first half before taking a 45-40 lead into the locker room at the half.
Mississippi State fought back to lead by four at 61-57 with 10:08 left in the game. From there, the Jaguars went on a 12-0 run and never fell behind again.
With the loss, the Bulldogs fell to 24-4 all-time against the 10 teams that currently make up the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Both MSU and Southern are now 1-1 overall this season.
The Bulldogs return to action on Thursday at 4 p.m. as they play away from their home floor for the first time in the first game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
MSU will play three games in Puerto Rico, starting with Miami.
From there, the Bulldogs will play either Texas Tech or Utah on Friday before wrapping up with a yet-to-be-determined opponent on Sunday.