Abdul Ado (24) grabs one of his nine game-high rebounds for Mississippi State Saturday at Humphrey Coliseum. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
December 30, 2017 10:52:19 PM
STARKVILLE -- It was hard to find anyone who left Humphrey Coliseum without a higher level of confidence Saturday afternoon.
Mississippi State shot 62 percent from the floor while beating North Florida 109-81 in the final non-conference game of the season. Southeastern Conference play begins Tuesday when Arkansas comes to the Hump.
"I think we need to start conference play right now," MSU junior forward Aric Holman said. "Everyone is feeling good right now. That is when you want to start playing conference games. When everybody has that good feeling and the team is play well, you want to see how you measure up."
MSU improved to 12-1 -- its best start since the 2011-12 season, while scoring the most points in a game under third-year coach Ben Howland. It was the most points for the Bulldogs since scoring 123 points in a win over Troy in 1995.
Howland is quick to caution all 18 league games will come against opponents he feels are better than the 12 teams MSU has beaten. The lone non-conference loss was a 65-50 setback at Cincinnati.
"Basically, we have 18 Cincinnatis coming around the corner," Howland said. "Needless to say though I am estactic about being 12-1. We are where we wanted to be and where we thought we could be. Now, it's time to get into the grind. The grind starts Tuesday and does not let up until the SEC tournament. However, I think we are ready. It's time to the play games that rally matter in the conference standings."
Howland said. "Needless to say though I am ecstatic about being 12-1. We are where we wanted to be and where we thought we could be. Now, it's time to get into the grind. The grind starts Tuesday and does not let up until the SEC tournament. However, I think we are ready. It's time to the play games that rally matter in the conference standings."
Howland can only hope some league games go as well as Saturday did.
Holman scored 23 points, and was followed by Quinndary Weatherspoon (18 points), Xavian Stapleton (16 points), Nick Weatherspoon and Tyson Carter (11 points each).
The Bulldogs had 24 assists on 44 made baskets.
"It's the most unselfish team I have ever been a part of," Stapleton said. "When we pass the ball, we are really good. Those assists came off the extra pass."
Early on, it looked like a track meet from start to finish.
After 10 ties and three leads changes, the Bulldogs scored the final four points of the first half for a 47-43 halftime lead.
The lead grew to 10 quickly in the second half before a decisive 26-6 run.
"(Stapleton) was outstanding," Howland said. "He was making plays on both ends of the floor. The Nick Weatherspoon defense was awfully good in the second half.
"We went from no 3-pointers in the first half to seven in the second half. That helped, too."
Holman said the team's chemistry is the best it has even been. Despite some non-conference opponents lacking star power, Holman feels like the team is ready to step up in class.
"There are a lot of veterans on this team that have played in the league before," Holman said. "We know the kind of team we have this year. We know we are more capable of competing this year.
"You take a game like this and everybody feels good. Now, you have to learn how to do what you did today on a more consistent basis."
Howland said the team will spend New Year's Eve putting in the Arkansas game plan.
"It's a whole new ballgame now," Howland said. "It hits you quickly and you have to be ready."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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