Bulldogs look to shoot better against Skyhawks

Staff Writer

t’s time to find out how the Mississippi State Bulldogs handle adversity.

On the heels of its first loss all season, MSU (8-1) returns to action Saturday with a 7 p.m. game against UT Martin (3-7) at Humphrey Coliseum.

The Bulldogs fell 65-50 at Cincinnati on Tuesday, giving them the first blemish to their record after an 8-0 start, which stood as MSU’s best start to a season since 2003-04.

Coach Ben Howland’s team shot just over 30 percent in the loss and that’s a figure the Bulldogs will need to improve upon today as they look to get back into the win column.

“Defensively and rebound-wise, we were good enough (at Cincinnati),” Howland said. “Offensively, we did poor, and a big part of that was we just rushed. We had no sense of patience at all. It was like we were back in exhibition season again. We were shooting way too quick.

“There was just no patience at all and not enough ball movement. It was way too hurried.”

The problems were many offensively for MSU at Cincinnati. Not a single Bulldog bench player contributed a point. The reserves shot a combined 0-for-20 from the field.

Lamar Peters struggled mightily in the contest, not making any of his 11 shots.

As a result of it all, MSU didn’t get the big-time road victory it was hoping for earlier this week. What the Bulldogs did get was a lesson that Howland hopes takes with them going forward.

MSU will get its first opportunity to try and apply what it learned today against a UT Martin squad that has won its last two games.

The Skyhawks’ recent victories helped turn around a 1-7 start to the season. They did it by scoring in bunches. UT Martin beat Arkansas State 92-78 on Dec. 5, then followed that up by winning 127-92 against UC Clermont on Dec. 10. The 127 points the Skyhawks tallied in that game were the second-most in a single game in program history.

UT Martin’s dangerous offense has been led by Matthew Butler. The senior guard is averaging 17.3 points per game.

Fatodd Lewis has also excelled for the Skyhawks. The junior forward is nearly averaging a double-double, with 14.8 points and 9.1 boards per contest.

Defensively, Howland says UT Martin is a team that relies almost exclusively on a zone defense. When you put it all together, Howland is anticipating a battle as the Bulldogs look to rinse the loss to Cincinnati out of their mouths.

“(UT Martin is) all zone,” Howland said. “They’ll be a team that plays zone for 40 minutes.

“They play a lot of guys. They’ll play 11 or 12 different guys. They keep guys fresh. They run a lot of stuff offensively. It’s a team that is really playing well.”

Mississippi State will try and counter what UT Martin offers with what has been a balanced team effort so far this season. Four different Bulldogs average double-figure scoring, led by Tyson Carter’s 13.3 points per game. Quinndary Weatherspoon is just behind with 13.1 per contest.

Aric Holman, the junior forward who somewhat surprisingly leads the Bulldogs in 3-point shooting percentage (66.7 percent), is averaging 11.8 points per game to go along with a team-best 7.6 rebounds per contest.
Nick Weatherspoon is averaging 11 points per game.

Each of those guys and the rest of the Bulldogs aren’t as concerned with their numbers today though as they are with helping MSU bounce back strong.

The loss at Cincinnati is now in the past. Howland is now hopeful the only thing that sticks from it is the experience so that MSU is better for it moving forward.

“I think we’ll learn from it,” Howland said.