Mississippi State started SEC play off the wrong note, opening with an overtime loss to South Carolina. Things only got worse on Saturday, as the Bulldogs dropped an 81-77 decision to their in-state rivals from Ole Miss in an intense game from the Humphrey Coliseum. State led by as many as 9 in the second half, but the Bulldogs could not hold off the Rebels, who got a career high 26 points from true freshman Blake Hinson, sparking a comeback that left the Bulldogs at 0-2 in the conference and likely behind the Rebels when Monday’s polls are released. State was led by Quinndary Weatherspoon, who scored 18 points, and Lamar Peters who added 16 of his own. From a 12-1 start in non-conference play that had most Bulldog fans believing the program was back on track, this defeat has raised a number of questions, most notably, why has it taken Ben Howland four years to do what Kermit Davis seemingly has in one in Oxford?
Howland asked about those quick 3's late in the game, laments the fact his team isn't trusting each other enough.
— Brian Hadad (@brianhadad) January 12, 2019
Three possessions under the two minute mark, MSU had a chance to either tie or take the lead, and each time down, the Bulldogs settled for a contested three pointer early in the shot clock. All three missed, and the Bulldogs were never quite able to get over the hump (no pun intended). Coach Ben Howland said he felt it was a trust issue, but this has been the case before the Bulldogs, who early in the game had great ball movement and were finding easier shots.
BULLDOGS HAD THEIR CHANCES
Despite all that, MSU had an opportunity to take this one in the end after Nick Weatherspoon’s three ball out of an inbounds play. State simply could not finish, as on the ensuing possession, Ole Miss’s Breein Tyree drove to put the Rebels back up by two, and MSU’s final three possessions went miss from 3, turnover, miss from 3. Bottom line, MSU has reverted back to the kind of basketball they were playing a season ago when SEC play began, which is disappointing considering how good the team looked throughout non-conference play.
Down but not out. Plenty of Basketball left. #HailState? pic.twitter.com/Lu9NUP89dx
— MSU Men’s Basketball (@HailStateMBK) January 12, 2019
This isn’t how it was supposed to go for Mississippi State. It was supposed to be a hot start in SEC play leading into the game at Kentucky in two weeks. Instead, the Bulldogs are in scramble mode, and the fanbase is starting to ask questions about Ben Howland and the future of the program. Certainly all is not lost, but Mississippi State’s game on Tuesday against Florida is as much of a must win game as you can have in mid-January. If the Bulldogs go to 0-3, it will be difficult to convince anyone the program is on stable footing. State has to get back to the way it was playing during that stretch that saw them defeat Dayton, Clemson, Cincinnati, and Wofford.
We’ll talk all about this and the bigger questions surroudning MSU basketball on the Thunder & Lightning Podcast, and of course, on SportsTalk Mississippi this Monday.
Photo courtesy of Mississippi State athletics.