Howland pleased with Bulldogs balance, 3-point defense


By Amber Dodd, Special to The Dispatch



STARKVILLE -- Ben Howland had plenty of teaching points to take from the Mississippi State men's basketball team's first two Southeastern Conference losses. 


No. 24 MSU improved in two of the areas -- 3-point defense and shot selection -- on Tuesday night to avoid falling to 0-3 in the league. 


With eight players in the scoring column, including three in double figures, No. 24 MSU used its depth to earn a 71-68 victory against Florida before a crowd of 7,501 at Humphrey Coliseum. 


"I thought our defense was better because they force you to be patient offensively because they're playing that one-two-two, kind of soft zone, to make you use time," Howland said. "That helped our defense. We started Robert Woodard (II) tonight because they were starting four guards with (Jalen) Hudson. It was just the best matchup of our guys that play the four to match them up with Hudson. I thought Robert did a tremendous job tonight. He had that big block. 


"We shot the ball well from three, and we end up shooting 58 percent on less attempts relative to percentage. I thought our turnovers (15) were decent considering their pressing the whole game, so I was really happy for our team that we found a way to pull this one out because this was really important, obviously, as we head to the road here for our next few games." 


The Bulldogs improved in all areas, from Quinndary Weatherspoon's attention to detail to drive for a two instead of a 3-pointer to performances that did not show up on the floor. Weatherspoon converted the game-winning shot with 3.6 seconds left and was fouled by Kevarrius Hayes. 




Starters go cold 


Only one starter -- Lamar Peters -- reached double figures in scoring. 


Peters' 16 points helped keep the Bulldogs in the game in the first half. The other starters, Abdul Ado, Quinndary and Nick Weatherspoon, and Woodard II, combined for 25 points on 11-for-21 shooting from the field. They attempted three free throws. 


Howland said the bench's ability to hold serve against Florida kept MSU's starters ready. Tyson Carter hit four 3-pointers (12 points) to help MSU outscore Florida 30-18 in points off the bench.  


"We got them more rest and that was big," Howland said. "My responsibility in the two losses was getting the guys enough rest." 




Woodard II's will to win 


Senior forward Aric Holman said leaving Woodard out of the second half against Ole Miss was a mistake.  


Instead of waiting until MSU needed him off the bench against Florida, Howland started Woodard II in Holman's place. The former Columbus High School and two-time Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year did a little bit of everything with three points, four rebounds, two assists, and three steals in 20 minutes.  


Woodard II had an inch height advantage and a 35-pound advantage on Florida guard Jalen Hudson. 


Woodard provided energy on both sides of the ball by driving to the rim, diving for loose balls, and creating offensive opportunities. 


Woodard II had his only field goal to tie the game at 45. He also had a blocked shot that stopped a dunk that would've tied the game.  


"I thought Robert did a tremendous job tonight," Howland said. "He had that big block and we shot the ball well from three." 




Strong play by Peters 


Peters used his athleticism and veteran IQ to spark the Bulldogs. Peters' confidence helped him ignite the offense late in the first half. Energy and efficiency sparked a quick one-man 11-point run to help MSU open a 34-26 lead with 3 minutes, 4 seconds left in the first half. Peters went 4-for-7 from 3-point range and had 16 points in the first half points to equal his total against Ole Miss. 


Peters proved his theory correct. His efforts couldn't be sustained without defensive efforts.  


Peters' second-half impact didn't mark up the stat sheet. He led MSU's 3-point defense that limited Florida to 3-for-11 shooting from behind the arc in the second half. Peters had five of his six assists in the second half. 


"When I look at his stats right here -- two to one on assist-to-turner against that pressure and that press," Howland said of Peters. "I thought he was tremendous and did a really good job defensively. We got him more rest. We got Q (Quinndary Weatherspoon) more rest. That was big. My responsibility, we were talking about the two losses, is not getting our guys enough rest and using the eight guys that we played tonight, divvying it (the minutes) up more. That's what we're going to continue to do. 


"I think he was good. The only shot that I think was a bad shot for him, all night, was he had made an 11-0 run, and he took one from 30 feet. Then, he drove the next one and made a layup. That's what you have to do when you've made three threes in a row. Then, you want to drive it and mix it up."



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