November 19, 2017 12:46:55 AM
STARKVILLE -- Ben Howland caught himself gawking at Abdul Ado.
That play that did it came with less than eight minutes to go. Ado, Mississippi State's redshirt freshman forward, collected a pass from E.J. Datcher with his feet planted well outside the right block. The space between Ado and the rim was no deterrent: he took flight, allowing a Florida A&M defender to float by him as he threw down a vicious one-handed dunk.
"I didn't expect that. That was a nasty dunk," Howland, MSU's coach, said. "Even me, at this point having seen thousands of games, got excited about a play like that. He dunked that, he took off from outside the paint. When you've got a 7'5" wingspan, I guess you can do that."
Ado took a few seconds to celebrate before beginning his trot down the court. It was the exclamation on his emphatic college basketball debut.
After sitting out last season via NCAA ruling and missing MSU's season opener with a quad injury, Ado introduced himself with 12 points, a team-high eight rebounds, three blocks and a steal -- all in just 23 minutes -- as MSU (2-0) beat Florida A&M (0-4) 79-48 Saturday afternoon.
"It felt like this day would never come, but it finally did," Ado said.
Howland added, "You've all heard how much I love him, and I think you saw that tonight. He did things that don't show up on the stat sheet defensively: his movement with his feet, his toughness out there defensively, physicality, is really fun for me to watch."
Ado admitted he was nervous before the debut, but said his teammates told him the game would be, "just like practice but against other people," and encouraged him to do what he's always done.
It's pretty easy to settle into a game when you get early touches as Ado did.
Ado took three of MSU's first eight shots, missing one of them -- his only miss of the game.
"He's going to be ready to catch the ball and he's going to finish around the rim, and that's big time for us, as you saw tonight," guard Lamar Peters said.
When he wasn't doing the scoring himself, he was creating it for others.
Aside from his three offensive rebounds, Howland was particularly impressed with Ado's passing. That, with the same from Datcher, created a surge in the second half to the tune of a 67.7 percent shooting from the field (21-31), a sharp turn from 38.7 percent in the first half. Ado did not get an assist for his efforts but Datcher ended with two.
"In the second half, we did a lot better job in the high post of attacking the zone," Howland said. "I thought E.J. Datcher had some great passes from the high post tonight, really helped us.
"I think that was a big part of it and I also thought we did a better job of being a little more patient with the zone in the second half."
Ado's presence was an equal-opportunity benefactor: five Bulldogs ended the game with double-digit points as Peters, Nick Weatherspoon and Quinndary Weatherspoon all scored 12 as Ado did and Tyson Carter scored 10. Peters and Nick Weatherspoon led the team with five assists.
Stapleton, Wright did not play
MSU won without guard Xavian Stapleton, who did not dress out for the game with his knee injury. Stapleton played just five minutes in the season opener before suffering the injury; an MRI later in the week revealed not tear in the knee. Howland said Stapleton worked out for 30 minutes before the game and felt a, "twinge," in the knee, so MSU held him out. Howland said he likely doubtful for Monday's game against Wisconsin-Green Bay.
MSU was also without forward Eli Wright, who Howland said missed the game for a violation of team rules. Howland said Wright will be available again for Monday's game.
Wisconsin-Green Bay on Monday
MSU hosts the 1-1 Phoenix 7 p.m. Monday (SEC Network+), which lost its only game against a Division I opponent this year, at Northern Illinois.
"Motion, so they play a lot like Texas Tech. They play fast, they can really shoot it," Howland said. "That's a great program."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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