MSU vs. Texas A&M basketball

Mississippi State guard Quinndary Weatherspoon, left, reaches to block a shot by Texas A&M guard Wendell Mitchell in the first half of Thursday's Southeastern Conference game in Nashville, Tenn.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Mississippi State was not supposed to have much trouble winning its first game of the 2019 Southeastern Conference Men’s Tournament.

That was indeed the case as the Bulldogs cruised to an 80-54 win over the Texas A&M Aggies in a game that was never really in doubt.

State's latest success over Texas A&M came not even a week after it handled it 92-81 at Humphrey Coliseum on senior day.

After 20 minutes, MSU was up 38-23. Things didn’t get much better for the Aggies in the second half as State won that stanza 42-31.

“I thought our defense really was good in this game," State head coach Ben Howland said. "We came out and competed well. We were unselfish with 17 assists. When we play like that, it's great.

“I’m really happy for our guys and exited for the win.”

The Bulldogs were led in scoring by Lamar Peters with 15 points. Joining him in double figures were former Starkville High School player Tyson Carter with 14 and Quinndary Weatherspoon, who scored 12 points.

Peters attributed his scoring to “just staying in the gym. Coach told me to just keep getting shots up.”

MSU's top rebounder was Robert Woodard with eight off the bench. The Bulldogs won the battle of the backboards 36-24. The top assist man was Weatherspoon with nine, while the steals leader Thursday was also Weatherspoon with three thefts.

“I think we did a good job on the defensive end,” Weatherspoon said. "That led to us getting some easy buckets.”

State’s largest lead was 30 points at the 4:06 mark in the game. The Aggies never led and got 21 points from Savion Flagg.

MSU improved its record to 23-9 overall. Texas A&M ended its season at 14-18. According to reports, Aggie head coach Billy Kennedy faces an uncertain future and Thursday may have been his final contest at the helm.

The Bulldogs shot 53.4 per cent from the floor, 44 percent behind the arc and 77.8 percent at the free-throw line.

MSU fans got fired up on a late tip-in by walk-on Tate Clayton that put the Bulldogs up 77-48. Columbus native T.J. Gray then banked in a 3-pointer, which again brought cheers.

Next up for MSU is another late night game. Friday night’s contest is against No. 3 seed Tennessee (27-4, 15-3 SEC). The Volunteers are led by SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams, who averages a league-leading 19.3 points per game. He stands fifth in SEC rebounding stats with an average of 7.7 boards per contest. The game will be shown on the SEC Network. It will start roughly 30 minutes after the conclusion of the 6 p.m. game between second-seed Kentucky and No. 10 Alabama, which knocked off Ole Miss 62-57 in a mild first round upset.

Howland knows there will be nothing easy about playing Tennessee in Nashville.

“They’re a great team and they have a chance to win the national championship," Howland said of the Vols. "We’re excited to be able to play a team of that caliber."

Peters embraces the challenge.

“We know it’s going to be a physical game,” Peters said. “Hands down – they’re the most physical team in the SEC.”

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