January 10, 2017 10:29:52 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State men's basketball coach Ben Howland has been tinkering with his lineup the last two games.
Howland started Xavian Stapleton at guard over Tyson Carter to get more size on the floor against Alabama in his team's Southeastern Conference opener. He was forced to start center Schnider Herard for Aric Holman due to disciplinary reasons.
In a 95-78 victory against LSU on Saturday at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Howland started Holman, Herard, Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mario Kegler, and Lamar Peters. He then went five deep into his bench.
Howland expects to start the same lineup and have a similar rotation when MSU (10-4, 1-1 SEC) plays Arkansas (12-3, 1-2) at 8 tonight (SEC Network) at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
"I just thought in terms of our size, it gets us off to hopefully a better start on the backboards, which has been an Achilles' heel all season," Howland said Monday. "It helps to play Aric, Mario, and Q all at their natural positions, which is the two, the three and the four, but they can all play at different spots. That's the sign of a really good player, versatility to play multiple positions.
"With that being said, I think our size, it helps us to be bigger, especially in the onset of games when we're trying to establish ourselves rebounding wise."
Holman and Herard are 6-foot-10, Kegler is 6-7, Weatherspoon is 6-4 and Peters is 6-foot.
The Bulldogs, who are 13th in the SEC in rebounding margin (minus-0.6), outrebounded the Tigers 40-39. Holman had nine rebounds, while Weatherspoon and Kegler had seven.
Holman, who leads MSU with 6.6 rebounds per game, said it was easier to rebound early against LSU and that he felt comfortable in the post.
A natural forward, Holman has been forced to play center. But with Herard in the lineup, he can move back to his natural position: power forward.
"It doesn't make much difference to me," Holman said. "It's the same, basically, when it comes to the offense and what coach expects out of me. It's the same to me."
Holman led MSU with 17 points against LSU, Peters (15), Weatherspoon (14), I.J. Ready (13), and Kegler (11) also scored in double figures.
Ready, the team's lone senior has been the starting point guard, but Howland said Ready missed three days of practice due to a knee injury prior to the LSU game, so he elected to start Peters, a New Orleans, Louisiana, native.
Ready said Peters did everything he was asked to do, including passing, scoring when needed, pushing the tempo, and playing great defense. Ready said he just wants to win and doesn't mind coming off the bench. Howland envisions Ready and Peters playing at the same time.
"We don't get a lot of reps together in practice because we try to keep practice as competitive as it possibly can be," Ready said. "I know when we're in together, that's probably our best defensive lineup because we can pressure the ball and just be active in a lot of different ways."
Howland also used Eli Wright, E.J. Datcher, Xavian Stapleton, and Tyson Carter off the bench. Ready played 26 minutes, while Carter played 15 and Datcher 14.
"Coach Howland did a great job subbing and utilizing all of his weapons at the right time," Ready said. "The lineup we started off with was great. They came out strong and just the way he rotated all of us in at times, you can't question it. He did a great job."
Howland said after the game that Stapleton didn't play in the second half for precautionary reasons. Stapleton is coming off two knee injuries. Howland didn't have an update about Stapleton on Monday.
Holman and Ready said the win against LSU gave MSU confidence. Howland hopes the same starting lineup will help his team maintain that confidence.
"(Confidence) is a very important thing to have when you're playing a game," Howland said. "I know the atmosphere at Bud Walton Arena is second to none, so that will be a real experience for our young guys that have never been there before."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.
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