By JOEL COLEMAN
Things were slipping away for Mississippi State on Saturday.
Despite leading at halftime, the Bulldogs had fallen into a nine-point, second-half deficit to Tulane. Finally, MSU had enough.
“Coming off two tough losses, they didn’t want to feel that pain and that sting again,” Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland said of his team.
MSU closed out the contest on a 24-5 run as the Bulldogs rallied to top the Green Wave 69-59 at Humphrey Coliseum. Freshman guard Malik Newman scored 15 points to lead Mississippi State, who improved to 5-5 with the comeback.
“We were down nine after being up six,” Howland said. “That’s a 15-point change to start the second half. Our guys did not drop their heads. They fought back basket by basket and made big stops. Credit our guys, they showed a lot of heart and a lot of moxie.”
Quinndary Weatherspoon keyed MSU’s late rally.
Down 54-47, Weatherspoon drilled a 3-pointer with 10:27 remaining to pull the Bulldogs within four. After I.J. Ready closed the gap to one with a layup and a free throw, Weatherspoon hit a jumper at the 8:14 mark to put MSU up for good.
“(Weatherspoon) has no fear,” Howland said. “We had that nine-point deficit and at that point, he was in the game and was huge to help us come back in this game and I’m excited for him.”
Weatherspoon finished with seven points.
Craig Sword scored 14.
Former Starkville Yellowjacket Gavin Ware, who wasn’t expected to play due to a lateral bruise in his left knee sustained last Wednesday at Florida State, ended up seeing 24 minutes of action and scoring 12 points. He narrowly missed a double-double, collecting nine rebounds.
Before needing to come back, Mississippi State led 40-34 at the break. The Bulldogs built their advantage behind the hot shooting of Newman, who drained a trio of 3-pointers in the game’s first seven minutes.
“I had a great shoot-around and I was just feeling comfortable,” Newman said. “My teammates did a great job of finding me.”
Things fell apart for the Bulldogs after the intermission. Tulane went on a 20-5 run to send MSU reeling.
“We were so bad defensively, we switched out of the zone after the first four or five minutes,” Howland said. “Then we continued to be scored on too easily in our man, so we switched back to the zone and got back to what we were doing in the first half.”
Howland’s adjustments worked. Tulane scored just five points over the game’s final 11:14.
“We came together as a team,” Newman said. “We were doing a good job of holding each other accountable and holding ourselves accountable. Early in that second half, we didn’t do a great job with that. After we called a timeout and got everything situated, I think guys started to respond in a great way. We started back holding each other accountable and taking criticism.”
Sword said the Bulldogs simply refused to fold when down.
“We kept our energy up,” Sword said. “The last few games, we lost our energy.”
Mississippi State will try to keep that momentum going when the Bulldogs face Northern Colorado on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.
After coming from behind to top Tulane, Howland believes his MSU squad is in a good spot.
“It says a lot about the character of our guys and that’s what makes me feel good,” Howland said. “We’re getting tougher.”