Nick Weatherspoon had 11 points in the No. 22 Mississippi State men’s basketball team’s 90-77 victory against McNeese on Tuesday night. Photo by: Blake Williams/MSU Athletic Media Relations
December 5, 2018 10:30:28 AM
STARKVILLE -- Tuesday presented the Mississippi State men's basketball team with a challenge, and one it did not meet well -- at first.
McNeese State is far from a NCAA tournament contender, yet the 2-6 Cowboys of the Southland Conference took a halftime lead into the visiting locker room of Humphrey Coliseum, largely on the back of 28 points in the paint and a 65.5 shooting percentage that comes with so many close-range opportunities.
The No. 22 Bulldogs (7-1) had to find a solution, and they did.
The solution that ultimately won the game was more of an offensive one than defensive, as 48.6 percent second-half shooting and a career-high 27 points from Lamar Peters propelled MSU to a 90-77 win. The solution that proved more important was MSU proving it can pass a different kind of test, and each proving ground is of the most importance for a team carrying NCAA tournament expectations.
"You have to commend McNeese State, they really came in there and took it at us in the paint in the first half," MSU coach Ben Howland said.
McNeese State did it in every way possible. It helps that the Cowboys are built to run such a system, with Jackson native center Malik Hines scoring 24 in his homecoming and fellow starting frontcourt presence Shamarkus Kennedy adding 11.
"We were able to catch them on some slips, put them in rotation a little bit," McNeese State coach Heath Schroyer said, referencing the action of a screen creating action in one direction just for the post opportunity to come on the other side.
"We really worked on spacing the floor the right way and getting them in rotation, and Ben is such a good defensive coach, it's easier said than done. We ran a lot of stuff to try to get their bigs away from the basket and lull our guys back in, get advantages on some seals, run some slips and things like that."
Howland credited his team's inability to respond to communication, particularly from the weak side to react to the slip. He also thought the team wasn't proactive enough in denying entry passes to the post.
It all was a matter of energy, and that's how MSU fought it.
"We want to give credit to them, they made a couple of tough shots, and they were way more patient than we expected," Peters said. "We had to go into the second half with a little more energy."
MSU then proved that was all it needed. McNeese State once missed eight consecutive second-half shots -- five of them were 3-pointers, as the lane suddenly became difficult to access. In that time MSU took a three-point deficit and turned it into a commanding 15-point lead, one that would never dip below double-digits from then on.
McNeese State followed 28 first-half points in the paint with four in the second half. Then it owned all of the misses, ultimately outrebounding McNeese State 40-23.
Howland continually stresses to his Bulldogs that any team can beat them on any given night just like they can beat any team on a given night, and a first half like Tuesday's serves as proof. The moments of failure in rim protection may have put a scare into MSU, but improving them in the second half and winning in spite of them kept the season's outlook in tact.
"This group is a second weekend team in the NCAA tournament," Schroyer said, "because of its size and because of a elite guard in Lamar Peters who can go win a basketball game."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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