Tuesday morning, Coach Ben Howland reported that after a practice collision on Monday, starting forward Travis Daniels is out for Mississippi State’s Wednesday contest at Florida State. “We just found out Travis sustained a concussion,” Howland said prior to a late-morning practice. He will miss the game.”
Daniels had started all eight games to now, averaging 8.0 points and 2.8 rebounds. By nature a small forward necessity had him working as power forward, with mixed results. Daniels scored 18 points in a home win over Texas Southern before final exams, but against a full-time zone defense at Missouri-Kansas City he scored just two points on 1-of-9 shooting.
Howland said Daniels’ status for this coming Saturday is up in the air as well. But the weekend game with Tulane can take care of itself. Florida State (6-2) awaits with an 8:00ct tipoff in Tallahassee for ESNP2.
“Now we’re going to have to make some adjustments because we know Travis isn’t playing.”
When the Bulldogs left Humphrey Coliseum today for their afternoon flight, Howland had another unknown. Starting point guard IJ Ready has been diagnosed with a turf toe. He was to have an insole plate installed before the Tuesday practice.
“He may try to go on it to see how he responds,” Howland said. Ready already was dealing with some lesser health issues yet had manned-up anyway and has a five-game streak of double-digit scoring. That’s raised his average to 12.4 points, easily career-best, and he’s issued twice as many assists as turnovers.
So. What is a coach to do? Even if Ready can go Wednesday minutes almost certainly must be limited. In fact, “I played IJ too many minutes,” Howland said of Saturday’s tight loss at UMKC.
With Daniels out and Ready limited, Howland can count only seven fully-healthy scholarship players right now. One of those is still working back up to absolute 100% too, as freshman guard Malik Newman has been slowed by his own November turf toe setback.
But all the Dogs have is all they have. So, “Just keep fighting,” Newman said. “That’s the only thing. And just get better player by player.”
Newman certainly shows signs of improvement. He scored a season-best 18 points Saturday and despite being 6-of-15 shooting overall was 4-of-10 at the arc. “The turf toe isn’t bothering me as much, I feel I’m coming into my comfort zone.” Howland welcomes the outside offense but is asking Newman to use his explosiveness and attack the lane, even the goal more often.
Classmate Quindarry Weatherspoon has done that, and been a more selective shooter too. He’s hitting 52% on the season overall and in the last three games is 4-of-7 on treys. Plus, Weatherspoon has become a productive passer and solid backcourt defender. He’s only started one game but with Ready uncertain and Daniels out the freshman guard might get more opportunities.
Just, not likely this Wednesday. Florida State is a big team, all around the floor and especially in the post. Senior Gavin Ware will start in the post of course, but odds are backup center Fallou Ndoye will return to action for the first time since November. He has not played in either December game, not from health but simple ineffectiveness.
Howland called this an “opportunity” for Ndoye to show something against the Seminoles. “They play really big and starte a 7-3 center and come off the bench with a 6-10 guy and a 7-4 guy. That’s a good game for him to match up in.” What the coach meant by ‘good’ is anyone’s guess.
But as to starting two big Dogs, that’s not at all certain. Howland can go with a rangy backcourt all around and Ware inside; or start forward Johnny Zuppardo at four-man. And now the recent addition of quarterback Eljah Staley to the roster seems much smarter.
“He may be forced into action,” Howland said. “He’s not close to being able to get up and down and back and forth for more than a couple of minutes in a real game.” But a couple of minutes matters more now. Ultimately which combo starts isn’t important as all combinations will get used.
Ware had a frustrating trip to Kansas City. He did keep his season-streak of double-digit games going with 12 points, but was so zoned as to get just six shots and five trips to the foul line. That dropped Ware’s average to 19.0 points even as his shooting improved to almost 71%. Florida State isn’t a zone-first squad, but that’s not necessarily encouraging.
“Defensively they pressure you and full-front the post, so Gavin will have to work hard to get touches.” The backcourt will have to be a little more patient, too. Settling for outside shots did put State in the lead at three minutes, but then two rushed long shots opened the door for UMKC to rally and win.
The loss has hit Howland hard. “I’ve watched that game four different times,” he said. His first critique was defense, still a sore point for a squad allowing 55% shooting in the four losses. How hard State can afford to defend and risk fouls is problematic too.
The real takeaway from the last game was taking bad shots and too quickly with the game in the balance. “Not understanding how to work the ball.” Plus, “We’ve got to get better at feeding the post and getting the ball in the high post.”
Saturday’s home game with Tulane is 3:00.