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Mississippi State men continue search for first road win

 

Brett Hudson

 

 

STARKVILLE -- From what Ben Howland has seen in recent weeks, his Mississippi State men's basketball team has everything it needs to produce a road win in the Southeastern Conference. 

 

When he looks back on the handful of recent road games his Mississippi State men's basketball team has played, he sees the capability of finally winning one such game. He looks at the three ties in the second half at Alabama, all of them with fewer than seven minutes left in the game and one with 97 seconds left; he points to the double-digit lead in the second half at Ole Miss that, even as it evaporated quickly, still left MSU tied with just over two minutes to go. 

 

All that's left is to put it all together for one span of 40 minutes, but opportunities for MSU (15-6, 3-5 SEC) to do so are running low. 

 

As the Bulldogs go to South Carolina (13-8, 4-4 SEC) 7:30 p.m. today (SEC Network) at Colonial Life Arena, it is the first of just five remaining road games for a team that's currently 0-4 in road games with only one win away from Humphrey Coliseum: in a neutral site game against Southern Mississippi in Jackson. 

 

"There's no question we've had some opportunities," Howland said. "We can win anywhere. We just have to have that mind-set. In the second half (against Alabama), we played with great fire, conviction and spirit; we just have to play like that from the get-go. 

 

"The other teams are good, that's one of the problems." 

 

The final piece to the puzzle for a road win is up for interpretation. It was shooting the first time, when MSU shot 30.2 percent from the field (19-63) against Cincinnati; that particular flaw was concentrated to the second half in its next road game, against Ole Miss, when it missed all 13 3-point attempts in the final 20 minutes. Four days later against Florida, MSU had no answer for guard Egor Koulechov, who had 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting. 

 

Twenty second-chance points were part of MSU's unraveling against Alabama and allowing Kentucky 30 free throw attempts led to the same fate in Rupp Arena. Still, junior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon thinks he can boil it all down to one thing. 

 

"We just have to put 40 minutes together. We're playing a lot of 30-minute basketball," he said. 

 

It's possible this is a team learning how to finish as it goes. MSU may have been the youngest team in the nation last year according to Ken Pomeroy, but it's not far from the same title this season as it ranks 327th of 351 Division I teams. It is a team with four underclassmen averaging at least 20 minutes per game. 

 

One of those underclassmen is freshman guard Nick Weatherspoon, who has taken plenty from his 28.3 minutes per game, second on the team. 

 

"It's very tough. I know a lot of teams play off their crowds," he said. "I know on the road it's hard to call plays and stay focused. I've learned to stay focused on the road and all the things the fan say, just put them to the side. 

 

"I would say I should be focused more on defense in the last three minutes closing a game out, and being smarter on offense, getting a better shot. That's one thing I'm focused on." 

 

As Howland sees it, that youth isn't in need of experience as much as it needs an experienced leader. 

 

"We don't have one guy that's a verbal leader that everyone feeds off of," Howland said. "(Former MSU guard) I.J. (Ready) was that guy, I.J. was that leader and we need someone to fill that role. You'd like it to be one of your older guys: (junior forward) Aric (Holman) can be vocal and he does it sometimes; (Quinndary Weatherspoon), it's just not his personality, it's just not who he is. That guy that does that has to do everything right." 

 

Howland's search for that player will not have a age prerequisite. He said he would like redshirt freshman Abdul Ado to be that person, but he doesn't think his personality fits the mold; he added Nick Weatherspoon and sophomore guard Lamar Peters have both shown promise. 

 

In the event that MSU doesn't find that person before its current road opportunities expire, Howland is confident help is on the way. 

 

"I can say this: in terms of leadership, Robert Woodard will be a great fit," Howland said of the Columbus High School product signed to MSU's 2018 recruiting class. "He's a basketball junkie, he's been around it his whole life and I think he'll be a great leader." 

 

Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson

 

 

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