Ben Howland Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to The Dispatch Buy this photo.
January 16, 2018 10:23:43 AM
STARKVILLE -- Ben Howland had a duel in his head on the way back from Florida.
Mississippi State's men's basketball coach knew he had a team coming off of two hard days of practice and a tough road game over 500 miles away from home. He also knew he had a young team that can benefit from every second of work on the practice floor.
His first thought was to let the team recover with an off day; instead, he practiced hard on the Thursday and Friday in between that loss and hosting then-No. 22 Auburn. He's convinced that decision bit MSU in the end.
He's not making that mistake again.
MSU is reeling from its active three-game losing streak before hosting Vanderbilt (6-11, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) 6 p.m. Tuesday (SEC Network), but it has every intention of being more rejuvenated this time around thanks to a tweaked practice schedule.
"The bottom line is we have seven weeks left in this regular season, so it's more about understanding than anything. We have to stay alive and active," Howland said.
Howland got that message through his players -- indirectly.
Howland said it wasn't until after the loss to Auburn that he heard his two most productive freshmen, guard Nick Weatherspoon and forward Abdul Ado, talked to trainers before the game and told them they, "didn't have their legs."
Junior Quinndary Weatherspoon said after the game he thought the team was, "nonchalant," with its double-digit lead in the second half; Howland, after reviewing the film, thought it was more of the physical ailment than the mental.
"I don't think it was the lackadaisical part as much as it was our sixth day of going hard," Howland said. "I don't think we can do that because, remember, we have 10 guys on scholarship so when we practice, there is no sub.
"You've got to remember, we've been going since August. It's a seven-month period and this is a two-semester sport, so it's tough. They're getting up and down, they're jumping, they're pounding, it's physical. I really blame myself."
As Nick Weatherspoon put it, "I need my legs to be great in a SEC game."
Howland has already made the adjustments to the practice schedule. He said he wanted to go longer than he did with Monday's practice, opting for more shooting than normal. He was also going to hold a short practice Sunday but decided against it.
The challenge from here is doing everything MSU (13-4, 1-3 SEC) used to do in a practice in a shorter amount of time. Auburn coach Bruce Pearl complimented the scouting job MSU did for its meeting with the Tigers, thus it's likely MSU does enough within its practice sessions. Now it has to find a way to do it all in less time.
Howland is experienced in this: in his 10 seasons at UCLA, he went through some Pacific 12 Conference schedules where teams would play road games on Thursday and Saturday of the same week, since some travel in that league can span over 1,000 miles from campus to campus. Howland said with some of his more experienced Bruin teams, he would give them Sunday and Monday off after those Saturday games, so he is no stranger to short preparation schedules.
As MSU transitions to them, the players know the onus is on them to accomplish what they always have in a shorter time.
"That and taking pride in really keying on the little things that Coach says," junior forward Aric Holman said. "The little things where we know what they're going to do and executing those things."
Holman is prepared to take on a bigger load in other areas.
"I guess you could say (shorter practices will help the team close second-half leads), but I think it's more of us as the leaders. Me, Q (Quinndary Weatherspoon) and (Xavian Stapleton), taking ownership and controlling the tempo of the game," Holman said. "I put that on us for not doing that and we have to work on that."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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