Bulldogs look to get offensive spark with Nick Weatherspoon more involved

Mississippi State's Nick Weatherspoon
Staff Writer

Mississippi State’s offense is sputtering.

The Bulldogs haven’t scored more than 58 points in either of their last two games.

Needing a jumpstart, MSU head coach Ben Howland is prepared to hand the keys over to his standout freshman point guard Nick Weatherspoon when the Bulldogs (13-3, 1-2) host No. 22 Auburn (15-1, 3-0) today at 2:30 p.m.

“He’s going to handle the ball more moving forward,” Howland said of Weatherspoon. “You’ll see that.

“He’s going to handle it more because he’s making good decisions in practice.”

Weatherspoon, in his first season with the Bulldogs after coming in as the state of Mississippi’s top recruit, is already putting together a splendid debut season at MSU. He’s averaging 11.1 points and 2.3 assists per game. He’s also perhaps State’s best defensive player.

“He has been incredible,” Howland said. “This is my 22nd year of coaching and 17th at the high major level and I’ve never had a freshman guard that is better than him, more competitive or tougher defensively in my career and I’ve coached 21 NBA players. I can’t say enough about his competitiveness and his toughness.”

Starting today though, it seems as though more is about to get put on Weatherspoon’s plate. All season long, Howland has preached that he needs patience from his offense. He needs the Bulldogs to make the extra pass. He needs them to take better shots.

By giving Weatherspoon, perhaps the team’s best ball handler, more control, Howland thinks MSU might can finally get its offense to start catching up to what has been an impressive defense so far this year.

“I think offensively for a number of reasons it’s going to be good for us,” Howland said of increasing Weatherspoon’s role. “We’re not advancing the ball enough up the floor for example. We have to do a better job of moving the ball down. The quickest way to get it up quickly is through the pass. We have to get guys out running and then get a chance to finish in transition.

“We have to get down there and I think Nick, with the experience he has under his belt now, I think this is going to be a good change for us and for his growth as a player.”

Weatherspoon’s teammates are excited to see what the change to MSU’s offensive approach can do.

“I think it’s going to be great,” Eli Wright said. “(Weatherspoon is) a great point guard. He makes the right decisions. He just knows what to do with the ball in his hands. Having the ball in his hands up the floor, it’s good for our team.”

MSU will likely need a big day from Weatherspoon if the Bulldogs want to upset Auburn. The Tigers have won 13 games in a row and have won the last five by 10 or more points.

“Auburn is incredibly impressive, just because they play so hard,” Howland said. “They don’t have a lot of size, but they lead the lead in blocked shots. They’re an incredible offensive rebounding team.

“They’re playing great basketball and you have to commend them for how hard they are playing, how well they execute offensively and how hard they play defensively.”

The Bulldogs would love to be the team that finally slows down the Tigers. Perhaps Weatherspoon can be the speed bump that gets in Auburn’s way.

It might be much to ask of a true freshman. Yet Howland says Weatherspoon is more than up to the challenge.

“He wants to do whatever you ask him to do,” Howland said of Weatherspoon. “He’d go right through a window headfirst if you asked him to do it. (That's) without question.”