By JOEL COLEMAN
Things couldn’t have gone much worse for Mississippi State in the early part of their Saturday game against Texas A&M at Humphrey Coliseum as the Aggies held the Bulldogs scoreless for the first 7:35 of the contest. It wasn’t long after though when an unlikely hero emerged to guide State to the victory.
Schnider Herard set a new career high in scoring, doubling his former top mark of eight points as he tallied 16 to help push MSU past Texas A&M 67-59.
“I thought Schnider had his best game as a Bulldog,” Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland said. “He was a force inside. He did a great job getting to the line and going aggressively to the basket. This was a huge step for him playing against really good players.”
Herard put forth a complete performance as he shot 5-of-7 from the field and made six of his eight free throw attempts. The freshman center also brought down four rebounds.
“I just did my job,” Herard said. “My teammates believe in me and pass me the ball inside. I make sure I get it done for them.”
Herard’s big game came just as Mississippi State needed it most. The Aggies (9-7, 1-4) took control of the Bulldogs (12-4, 3-1) early on. Texas A&M raced out to a 10-0 start in the game before MSU finally cracked the scoreboard with three free throws from Lamar Peters at the 12:25 mark in the first half. Peters’ success at the charity stripe began an 11-0 run for the Bulldogs that got them back in the game.
Peters ended the day with 14 total points.
It was Herard though that gave MSU its biggest spark. The big man scored 10 of his points in the first half including Mississippi State’s last eight points of the period. His tip-in as time expired in the first half gave the Bulldogs a 25-24 lead at the intermission despite MSU shooting just 24 percent from the field as a team and getting out-rebounded by 13 in the opening period.
“(Herard) buried us in the paint,” Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy said. “The biggest thing was making his free throws. I know he usually struggles from the line, but (Saturday) he made them.”
A familiar face helped Herard and the Bulldogs maintain their momentum in the second half. Sophomore guard Quinndary Weatherspoon was held scoreless in the first half, but scored 13 points in the game’s final 20 minutes. Weatherspoon shot a perfect 5-for-5 from the field including going 3-for-3 from beyond the arc after halftime.
Kennedy said Texas A&M’s game plan coming in was to zero in on Weatherspoon, but eventually, Weatherspoon overcame the attention.
“He’s such a good player and I have a lot of respect for him,” Kennedy said. “We knew he would get going a little bit. I thought we did a good job during the first half, but they wore us down on the perimeter.”
Largely behind the play of Weatherspoon and Herard, the Bulldogs were able to pull away a bit as the game drew closer to an end. Herard’s bucket with 5:29 left to go gave MSU a 52-51 lead. Mississippi State stayed in front the rest of the way.
Despite a slow start and having 15 fewer total rebounds than Texas A&M, MSU won its third-straight game in Southeastern Conference play. It’s the first time State has won three consecutive SEC games since 2011 and the first time the Bulldogs have been 3-1 in SEC play since 2010.
“It really was a great win considering how ineffective we were offensively the first seven minutes of the game,” Howland said. “We got killed on the glass and Texas A&M is the second-best rebounding team in the conference, but we made up for that by forcing (22) turnovers.
“This is a big win. I think Texas A&M is a very good team and very talented.”
Another big challenge awaits MSU in just a matter of days. Perennial power Kentucky visits Humphrey Coliseum on Tuesday night for a 6 p.m. game against Mississippi State.
With as well as things have gone for the Bulldogs the last week, and with freshmen like Herard and Peters continuing to develop, it’s a challenge Mississippi State is already looking forward to facing.
“(Saturday’s) game is over,” MSU senior guard I.J. Ready said. “Kentucky is up next and we’re ready. We’re going to prepare for them and come out and compete Tuesday.”