Winning with defense: Bulldogs beat Bearcats at their own game

Mississippi State's Reggie Perry (1) blocks out Cincinnati players on the block.

Former Starkville High School player Tyson Carter takes a shot for the Bulldogs.

Staff Writer

Cincinnati came to Starkville to battle No. 18 Mississippi State with a reputation of being one of college basketball’s premier defensive teams.

As it turned out, the Bulldogs were able to beat the Bearcats at their own game.

MSU limited Cincinnati to just 37.3 percent shooting and its lowest point total all season as the Bulldogs topped the Bearcats 70-59.

“We knew coming into the game we were playing a really physical team, so (Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland) was preaching all week at practice we had to be tough,” MSU guard Lamar Peters said. “If we wanted this game, we had to be tougher than them and out-rebound and all come together as one. We did a good job at that.”

Peters and fellow guard Quinndary Weatherspoon led Mississippi State offensively. Both guys had 14 points for the Bulldogs (9-1) against the Bearcats (9-2).

Guard Tyson Carter had 12 points for MSU, including multiple key baskets down the stretch. Forward Reggie Perry also scored 12.

However it was State’s defense that stole the show. The Bulldogs forced Cincinnati to shoot 10 percent worse than its season average. Against a Bearcat team known for its stinginess, MSU more than held its own.

“Everything starts with our defense,” Howland said. “Nothing changes. What you control most is your intensity and your preparation for people defensively, then when you have it going at the other end, you really have a chance to be good. Night in and night out, defense always gives you a chance to win.”

The Bulldogs also out-rebounded Cincinnati by four. MSU had 34 boards to the Bearcats’ 30. Forward Aric Holman led State with 10 rebounds. Perry picked up four.

It was an all-around outstanding night for Perry. The freshman entered early when starting center Abdul Ado got in foul trouble, then shined throughout the night.

“(Perry) gave us a huge lift with his toughness, his physicality and his banging inside,” Howland said. “His defense was really good and he got us going early offensively getting to the line, being tough, being physical and getting fouled.”

Mississippi State also received a boost from more successful 3-point shooting. The Bulldogs were 12-of-23 from long range for the night. Over the last three games, MSU has made 45 of its 84 3-point shots (53.6 percent). Prior to this stretch, Mississippi State was shooting just 29.7 percent from deep.

“We’re feeling confident now,” Carter said. “Everybody put in the work in the offseason and we started slow, but we stayed in the gym. We’ve got a lot of good shooters on this team so we knew the shots would start to fall eventually.”

Carter hit one of the biggest shots from beyond the arc on Saturday. With 3:46 left to play, Carter sank a triple to stretch Mississippi State’s lead out to 62-52. That all but sealed MSU’s victory.

Facing a strong Cincinnati squad with a reputation for its toughness, the Bulldogs proved to be just a bit tougher. It’s perhaps another sign that a special season could be shaping up for MSU.

“We were scrappy,” Howland said. “There was one play where everyone was diving on the floor for the ball. There were so many great plays of hustle and grit and fight and toughness. That’s what it takes to be good.”