Oh, what a relief: Weatherspoon's late heroics help MSU win close game

The Mississippi State bench erupts in celebration after Quinndary Weatherspoon scores late in the 71-68 win over Florida. (Photo by Kelly Donoho, MSU athletic communications)

Staff Writer

Mississippi State’s basketball season was starting to teeter.

After the Bulldogs had already dropped the first two games of its Southeastern Conference schedule, they were tied with Florida with just seconds to play on Tuesday night. With an 0-3 league start staring it right in the face, MSU found a way.

Quinndary Weatherspoon’s layup and ensuing free throw with just 4 seconds left lifted No. 24 State to a thrilling 71-68 victory. It was an uplifting win for State after dropping SEC contests to South Carolina and Ole Miss last week.

“This is good,” Weatherspoon said. “It just gives us our confidence back so we can get back on the right track and try to run off a couple (wins) in a row like we did when we took our first loss (in non-conference play).”

Weatherspoon’s late heroics saved the Bulldogs (13-3, 1-2) on a night that could’ve easily gone the other way. Florida (9-7, 1-3) led by five points at 66-61 with just 2:56 left to play.

However an Aric Holman 3-pointer and a Weatherspoon basket tied things at 66-all with 1:25 left.

State briefly claimed a 68-66 lead on a jumper by Holman with 24 ticks remaining on the clock, but the Gators answered on the other end thanks to an MSU mistake. The Bulldogs hauled in a rebound on a missed Florida shot, but turned the ball over and the Gators tied things at 68 on a jumper by Noah Locke.

That set up Weatherspoon for his clutch basket. He drove to the hoop, drew the harm and got a 3-point play the old-fashioned way to lock down the victory for State.

“We were just supposed to get (the ball) inbounds and me and Lamar (Peters) were supposed to go back and forth,” Weatherspoon said of the frantic final MSU possession. “The last person to touch the ball was supposed to drive all the way in. Lamar broke off at the end of the play and it left me with a wide-open lane to make a layup.”

Weatherspoon’s shot handed MSU the win, but the Bulldogs had other key performances too. Former Starkville High player Tyson Carter scored 12 points. Aric Holman had 10. Peters finished with a team-best 16 points for State.

Peters scored 11 of them over a 2-minute stretch just prior to halftime when he made treys on three-straight trips down the floor, then added a layup later. That stretch by Peters turned a 26-23 MSU deficit into a 34-26 Bulldog lead.

That was as big an advantage as the Bulldogs had all game though as Florida fought back. The Gators closed their deficit to two points at halftime, then charged ahead and looked to be in control late in the game before MSU and Weatherspoon’s heroics saved the day in Starkville.

It was no doubt a critical triumph for State. Given the results of the previous two SEC games and the fact that four of MSU’s next five games are on the road, the Bulldogs could ill-afford to drop a third-straight conference game. They didn’t and they’ll now have momentum heading into their next game on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at Vanderbilt.

“This was a huge win for us over a very good team that’s very well-coached,” MSU head coach Ben Howland said. “I’m really proud of our guys.

“This was really important as we head on the road here for our next few games.”