Bulldogs playing well in all phases on basketball court

Ben Howland

Staff Writer

Slowly but surely, the Mississippi State Bulldogs are building momentum on the basketball court.

This year’s season began with much optimism. After the No. 22 Bulldogs defeated Clemson 82-71 on Saturday as part of the Never Forget Tribute Classic in New Jersey, it’s beginning to look like No. 22 MSU might be prepared to deliver on all the hype.

Mississippi State has been playing solid basketball in all phases of late. It’s allowed the Bulldogs to begin building a resume that could have the school back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade once March rolls around. Saturday was another feather in that cap for MSU that head coach Ben Howland thinks allowed his team to take another step forward in their growth – something that’s happened a great deal over the last few months dating back to last season.

“I think it’s great for your team,” Howland told reporters in New Jersey after Saturday’s game. “I think it kind of goes back to, ‘Well, was the NIT (last year) good for you?’ We have a young group. We won on the road at Baylor and we won on the road at Louisville (last year). Those games helped us. Like the win at Dayton (this year). Dayton was a like a wild and crazy deal to win up there.

“But these are like SEC games. This is what that was (Saturday). This was an SEC Tournament game at the end of the season against another really good team. That’s what it’s going to be like. They’re tough. They’re physical. They’re strong. They’re well-coached. It’s a great win for us.”

MSU is now 8-1 overall this season. More importantly than the impressive record, the Bulldogs are seemingly starting to click on all cylinders.

Offensively, State’s shots are starting to fall. At Clemson, MSU sank a school-record 19 3-point field goals. The Bulldogs have now sank a whopping 33 treys over the last two games.

“Our guys, I’m telling you right now, I’ve never had a team collectively work harder at shooting than our guys did this last offseason,” Howland said. “Tyson Carter, (Quinndary Weatherspoon), Nick Weatherspoon, Lamar (Peters), Aric (Holman) and all these kids. I’m just really happy for them.”

Most of State’s offense has come courtesy of its guard play. Five Bulldogs average double figures in scoring with four of those being guards. However Mississippi State has been strong in the front court too.

Holman is averaging nearly a double-double with 10.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Holman is getting plenty of support in the post from Abdul Ado and Reggie Perry. Ado has averaged more than five rebounds and points per game. Meanwhile Perry, a true freshman, has come onto the scene and been MSU’s most impressive newcomer with 6.8 points and six rebounds per outing.

“This is our best front line (since I’ve been here),” Howland said last week. “You have a senior in Aric. There’s a redshirt sophomore with Abdul who has experience from the previous year. We add a McDonald’s All-American (in Perry) who is really going to be a good player and he’s getting better right before our eyes, then we have good depth up there. There’s Keyshawn Feazell and E.J. Datcher. We can match up with stretch-fours that are really threes like Robert Woodard did (against McNeese State on Tuesday) and did up at Dayton. He’s versatile and can play multiple positions. It’s big for us. I like our front line.”

Defensively, the Bulldogs have been good as well. They’re giving up just 64.1 points per game and limiting opponents to 41.8 percent shooting from the field. The more stops MSU gets, the better off it will be says Quinndary Weatherspoon.

“We just try to come out and play as hard as we can on the defensive end,” Weatherspoon said. “We know if we can get a lot of defensive stops, it can push our offense and we try to get out in transition. That’s what we like to do the most. We know if we get some stops and rebounds, we know we can get out in transition and have fun.”

There has sure been plenty of fun and excitement for the Bulldogs so far this year. The question now revolves around whether or not the fun will continue.

Another big opportunity awaits Mississippi State this Saturday. That’s when Cincinnati comes to Starkville to battle the Bulldogs.

In a non-conference slate that has been full of challenges, here comes another one at MSU. The Bulldogs saw firsthand last year how tough the Bearcats can be. That's when Cincinnati defeated State 65-50.

The Bearcats are currently 9-1 this year and Howland is ready to see how his ever-improving group will stack up this go-around.

“I watched (Cincinnati’s) game against Ole Miss and saw how hard they play and how tough they are,” Howland said. “They do a lot switching, they play zone and man and they rebound like crazy. They’re really good.

“We’ll be excited to play Cincinnati. They really killed us up there last year.”