December 9, 2017 11:02:23 PM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State men's basketball coach Ben Howland feels like it is opening day all over again.
Howland's team will be at full force Tuesday when the Bulldogs play on the road for the first time in a nationally televised game at No. 17 Cincinnati (6 p.m., ESPN2).
A final tuneup for the season's first road trip took place Saturday when MSU routed North Georgia 95-62 in the Humphrey Coliseum.
The Bulldogs won all eight games on their season-opening homestand to start 8-0 for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
"I really feel like we are ready go on the road," MSU junior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon said. "As long as our defense travels with us, we will be okay. It's time to play on the road against a great opponent. We need to learn. We need to keep getting better. I think this is a great chance for us."
Howland has said his team struggle in recent games after final examinations. A new approach was taken with a Division II opponent being scheduled about 48 hours after examinations for the fall term came to an end.
MSU played without Eli Wright, who served a one-game suspension. Ten of the other 15 Bulldogs who played scored. Against Cincinnati, 11 scholarship players will be available for the first time.
"It's my favorite time of the year," Howland said. "The final exams are over, so it's all about basketball until January 8 (the first day of the next semester). We can get in the gym and really work on some things. It would be nice to practice twice a day some days. We have some time to focus on our game and to become the best basketball team can become."
Howland said some of the team's lapses can be attributed to playing so many games in a small window without a full compliment of players. Howland also said the team began doing some prep work for Cincinnati on Thursday and Friday.
"Cincinnati is easily going to the best team we have faced this season," MSU junior forward Aric Holman said. "When everybody is available, it just means somebody can have an off night. We have been having a real thin margin for error. That is going to change now. I think this team is excited about playing on the road for the first time this season."
MSU scored the game's first nine points Saturday and was never threatened.
Quinndary Weatherspoon scored a season-high 22 points, while Holman had 13. Freshman KeyShawn Feazell impressed the home crowd with his best stretch of the season -- 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting from the field and four rebounds in 11 minutes. Lamar Peters also had 11 points and career-high seven rebounds.
"(Feazell) showed us why we are all excited to have him," Howland said. "I thought his minutes were huge today. So much upside for that young man. You play a game like this to give everybody some confidence. I think we achieved that today. We defended well and shared the basketball well."
Quinndary Weatherspoon did his work on an 8-for-11 night from the field. The MSU starting five were 19-for-36 from the field. The Bulldogs shot 50 percent or better for the fourth time.
Nick Singleton even got into the act with career-high nine points on three 3-pointers in the final five minutes. Abdul Ado had a career-high four blocked shots.
"It's confident basketball team," said the former Lawrence County standout Feazell, who joins Nick Weatherspoon as the cornerstones of Howland' elite freshman class. "This is a good group to try to fit in with. No one is selfish. Today, we were all making plays."
The Bulldogs blew the game open with a 12-0 run midway through the first half. MSU shot 56.8 percent in the first half and led 53-26 at halftime.
After playing at Cincinnati, MSU will have four more games (three at home and one in Jackson) before opening Southeastern Conference play at home against Arkansas.
"The sky is the limit for this team," Howland said. "We just had to get through this game. The next three weeks are critical. We need to take advantage of the chance to make this a great season."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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