Mississippi State's Aric Holman hopes to play in Saturday's critical Southeastern Conference basketball game at LSU. Photo by: David Miller/Special to The Dispatch
March 1, 2018 10:30:26 PM
STARKVILLE -- Aric Holman's junior year has seen him develop into one of the Southeastern Conference's most productive forwards. Through Tuesday he was the conference's 11th-best rebounder (6.5 per game), ninth-best shot blocker (1.5 per game) and was just outside the top 20 in scoring after 44 points in his first four February games. Flanked by an improving freshman forward Abdul Ado, it was enough of frontcourt presence for MSU to best use its deep corps of guards.
Mississippi State desperately needs that back.
That same frontcourt has performed well below average in MSU's last two games, an overtime win over South Carolina and a 22-point home loss to Tennessee. MSU (21-9, 9-8 SEC) will need more at noon Saturday (SEC Network) at LSU (16-13, 7-10 SEC). The need is most notable in scoring.
MSU's starting forwards, Holman and Ado, have combined for 18 points over the last two games -- including Holman's 10 points in the loss to Tennessee that were fueled by five made free throws as he went 2-for-8 from the field. The dry spell comes after what looked like an offensive epiphany for Ado: he started his season at times taking four or fewer shots and developed into a player who, over the two weeks before the struggle over his last two games, scored 19, 15 and 11 points in conference games.
The offensive lull was even more jarring for Holman, given his track record of doing more with less. Just in this year's SEC schedule, Holman had scored 13 points in 19 minutes, 18 in 26 minutes and 11 in 23 minutes; in his last two games, he's scored three in 30 minutes and 10 in 23 minutes.
Freshman guard Nick Weatherspoon can see how opponents are making it happen and what can be done to fix it.
"I'd say the guards are digging down more; when Abdul puts the ball on the floor, guards are trying to hit it out of his hands," Weatherspoon said.
"I would say during practice, them coming to the guards and telling us to get them the ball more. I think it's the guards fault for not giving Aric, Abdul and Xavian the ball more; it's our fault for not giving them the ball when they have mismatches."
The mismatches have nothing to do with the rebounding numbers.
Holman's 11th-best rebounding in the SEC is just behind Ado's 10th; both are averaging at or over 6.5 rebounds per game, but they combined for just four against Tennessee. MSU coach Ben Howland has been particularly surprised by Ado in that respect, as he went from grabbing at least seven in three of four games to four combined over his last two.
"He's blocking out and working hard," Howland said. "Scoring-wise, he's catching the ball, they're coming down and he's trying to dribble, dribble, dribble. He's got to realize he's going to have one dribble, max, against teams that like to come down on him."
MSU will need more rebounding against LSU, but the Tigers could help in that regard. Although forwards Aaron Epps and Duop Reath have respectable individual numbers at 6.0 and 5.2 rebounds, respectively, LSU is next-to-last in the SEC in rebounding margin, averaging a deficit of one rebound per game to its opponents.
However, there is no guarantee MSU will be at full strength. Howland said after the loss to Tennessee that Ado suffered a hip pointer; he did not know at the time to what extent the injury will hinder him.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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