Liberty Flames guard Elijah Cuffee (10) fouls Mississippi State Bulldogs guard Robert Woodard (12), of Columbus, during the second half in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at SAP Center.
Photo by: Kelley L. Cox/USA TODAY Sports
Mississippi State Bulldogs guard Lamar Peters (2) walks off the court after losing to the Liberty Flames in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at SAP Center.
Photo by: Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports
March 23, 2019 10:56:58 PM
BY BEN PORTNOY
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The pain sets in now.
After reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009, the Mississippi State men's basketball team crashed out in the opening round Friday night, falling to No. 12 seed Liberty, 80-76.
Across Bulldog nation, the upset is a difficult reminder of the struggles the program has faced to reach a consistent level of success in the SEC and on college basketball's national landscape.
Yet with the loss, fans can find solace in that head coach Ben Howland's program remains stable.
Though senior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon and junior guard Lamar Peters shouldered the scoring load Friday night with 27 and 21 points, respectively, freshman guard
Robert Woodard II of Columbus offered a glimpse into the future.
As the tertiary offensive threat against the Flames, Woodard looked the part of the top-flight, four-star recruit he was coming out of high school -- scoring 13 points on five-of-seven shooting in 26 minutes of action.
His athleticism was also on full display.
Streaking through the half court midway through the first half, Woodard received a pass from Weatherspoon in transition. Nearing the Liberty free throw line, he flashed a quick euro-step around his defender for an easy two at the rim.
Outside of Woodard, there's still plenty of reason to believe in Howland's bunch heading into 2020.
Freshman forward Reggie Perry, a virtual non-factor in Friday's matchup, averaged 9.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game during his inaugural campaign in Starkville and offers intriguing upside as a physical presence inside.
Further, junior guard Tyson Carter, who shot a meager 2-of-5 from the field and 1-of-4 from 3-point land, has shown flashes of being a capable perimeter scorer.
Carter, Perry and Woodard will all be back next season.
Sophomore guard Nick Weatherspoon, the younger brother of Quinndary, should return as well. Weatherspoon has been suspended indefinitely since mid-February for a violation of team rules and did not travel to San Jose.
Howland also welcomes a three-man recruiting class to campus, headlined by four-star small forward Elias King.
That said, with the end of the year comes the close of Quinndary Weatherspoon and senior forward Aric Holman's careers in the maroon and white.
For Weatherspoon, he'll finish his time in Starkville as just the third player in MSU history with over 2,000 points, while Holman totaled 1,035 points in his four years.
"I mean, I just give the credit to my teammates," Weatherspoon said. "I mean, we all came out and played hard. Lamar had it going, and the team, I think we played a great game. So I'm good with the career that I had at Mississippi State."
Whether Peters returns remains to be seen. He tested the NBA Draft waters after last season but returned to school. He'll likely see where scouts peg him in the pre-draft process once more.
"Q, Lamar, Aric, they have been great leaders to this team," Woodard said Friday. "They've motivated us well, as well as teaching the young guys, the freshmen, how to control ourselves and how to stay consistent throughout the season."
1. MSU QB Nick Fitzgerald ready for NFL's big night COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Next stop for Columbus fantastic foursome: college hoops HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
3. Starkville pitcher hits the strike zone HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
4. Dawgs wait on Perry's choice COLLEGE SPORTS
5. Rivalry night: No. 9 Bulldogs take on No. 19 Ole Miss COLLEGE SPORTS