MSU’s defense carried Bulldogs to best performance in years

By JOEL COLEMAN

sports@starkvilledailynews.com

Quinndary Weatherspoon had a chip on his shoulder Tuesday night at Humphrey Coliseum. Mississippi State’s standout freshman was ready to help the Bulldogs make amends against an Arkansas team that drained 16 3-pointers on the way to beating MSU in the two teams’ previous encounter in Fayetteville on Jan. 9.

“I took it personal from the last time we played them,” Weatherspoon said. “They hit so many threes on us.”

Weatherspoon got his retribution on Tuesday. Mississippi State’s defense strangled Arkansas and limited the Razorbacks to their lowest point total in three years as the Bulldogs rolled to a 78-46 win. The same Arkansas team that hit 16 treys on MSU earlier in the year made just 16 total field goals in defeat. The Razorbacks made only one 3-pointer this go-around and shot a mere 22.2 percent from the floor.

“It was a team defense and we had the switch on,” Weatherspoon said. “A lot of people did a good job on defense.”

MSU’s defense paved the way for the school’s first Southeastern Conference win of 30 points or more since the Bulldogs topped Auburn 90-53 on Jan. 5, 2005.

The Bulldog offense wasn’t too shabby either. MSU shot 52.9 percent from the field and put three players in double figures. Weatherspoon and Gavin Ware each notched double-doubles. Ware had 21 points and 10 rebounds while Weatherspoon scored 16 and collected 10 boards. Craig Sword scored 10 points to aid the MSU cause while Travis Daniels contributed 10 rebounds.

No matter which side of the court the Bulldogs were on, they were finding success. Ware said it all started on the defensive end.

“We clicked really well on defense and that was the biggest factor of us being able to execute so much on offense because we did so well on defense,” Ware said.

This Bulldog defense was much different than the one MSU put on the floor in Fayetteville last month, not only in its execution, but in its game plan. Mississippi State primarily stuck with a zone defense in the first meeting against Arkansas. Now, the Bulldogs are featuring the man-to-man style that head coach Ben Howland has preferred to utilize all along. Watching Tuesday’s game unfold only made Howland wish he had made such a shift earlier in the year.

“This makes me look pretty stupid (earlier this year), I admit it,” Howland said. “It makes me look really dumb.

“I was really a stupid coach to ever go to zone because that’s not what I believe in and teach. I thought with our foul problems we’d had early on, we could use the zone to win more games, but for our freshmen and players that will be back next year and for what I believe in, man-to-man is what I’ve always done. It’s disappointing to think I ever did go to zone as a staple of our defense.”

Howland can’t change the past, but he can look ahead to the future. Suddenly, his Mississippi State team that started SEC play losing five straight games has played .500 basketball over the last six contests and now, they’re on the heels of a dominant performance.

The Bulldogs will have the chance to keep the momentum rolling forward when MSU hosts Georgia on Saturday at 7 p.m.

Mississippi State can take another positive step in the upcoming battle of the SEC’s Bulldogs, but MSU has a new problem. Opponents are now well aware of just how dangerous Mississippi State can be when everything clicks.

“The secret is out,” Howland said. “We can play really good and be a really good team. So now we have to build on this.”

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