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MSU looks for NIT road win at Baylor


Sophomore guard Lamar Peters (1) will help lead the Mississippi State men's basketball team against Baylor today.

Sophomore guard Lamar Peters (1) will help lead the Mississippi State men's basketball team against Baylor today. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch


Brett Hudson



STARKVILLE -- Be it injury, suspension or matchups, the Mississippi State men's basketball team has had to make changes to its starting lineup. One of the mainstays was junior forward Aric Holman -- and understandably so, given he is the team's third-leading scorer (10.7 points per game), leading rebounder (6.7 per game) and second-best shot blocker (59). 


Without warning, that status disappeared at the beginning of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. His numbers have shown no regression. 


MSU will need Holman to continue producing as one of the SEC's best forwards in its second round National Invitation Tournament game against Baylor, 11 a.m. today (ESPN) as it faces a team with a corps of big men that earned the Bears a top seed in this tournament. 


"They have excellent size, they're a team that pounds it inside," MSU coach Ben Howland said of Baylor. 


Holman's three games have seen him average 9.75 points and 8.75 rebounds per game, but the biggest impact has been in his shot blocking: he's blocked four shots in each of the last three games and is averaging 3.5 blocks per game over the last four. 


It's possible coming off the bench has made that part of the game easier for him. 


"It gives me a better feel for the game to see what we're lacking on the court. I can actually see it instead of reacting in the game," Holman said. 


Moving Holman to the bench has also given MSU an additional athletic presence as it presented a starting role to Xavian Stapleton, who responded with 12 points in the first-round win over Nebraska Wednesday. Howland has labeled Stapleton a prototypical stretch 4, which MSU hopes to use to stretch Baylor's zone defense. 


The other recent change to the starting lineup -- sophomore guard and Starkville native Tyson Carter in place of injured freshman Nick Weatherspoon -- gives MSU its 3-point specialist in the starting lineup, another tweak that fits MSU to face a zone defense team. 


"I think it makes them more athletic in the frontcourt, with (Stapleton) being a more athletic 4-man and having an advantage on the offensive end," junior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon said. "That's how I look at it." 


Yet, this is not the typical zone defense. 


MSU struggled mightly with the zone defenses it saw early in the season, but all of those were traditional 2-3, 3-2 or 1-3-1 zones. Baylor uses the highly unorthodox 1-1-3, thus prominently using its deep corps of forwards. MSU knows effective forward play is a must against that defensive setup, particularly using them in the high post as facilitators, as sophomore point guard Lamar Peters said. He added MSU has a good mind-set going into the unusual task. 


"We've spent a lot of time trying to get a feel for it (Friday)," Howland said. "Just like any zone, it's about being patient, getting the ball moving, getting the ball out and in. It's the same concepts, and we've improved a lot from where we were in November attacking a zone." 


Holman is fully prepared to fill that role if asked, but his shooting can serve as the same stretching force that Stapleton's athleticism can provide: Holman has made 43.8 percent of his 3-point attempts this season and is fourth on the team with 35 made 3-pointers. 


Holman is willing to do both -- and willing to do it off the bench. 


"I always have the mind-set of doing whatever I need to do to make the team better, and if it's coming off the bench, that's what I'll do," Holman said. 


Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson



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