“Now you see what we’re capable of,” the Mississippi State coach said after Tuesday’s 78-46 rout of Arkansas. “The secret is out, we can play very good.”
Not just good, Howland was saying. Very good. Which is a very different outlook after a first season with Mississippi State with more frustrations than successes. True, the Bulldogs (10-13, 3-8 SEC) had a few encouraging moments along the way.
But blowing out a Razorback bunch, by dominating on each end of the Humphrey Coliseum court? Howland was right. The club’s cover is now blown. Nobody left on the schedule is going to overlook these Dogs.
So, “We still have to remain humble and get better these last few games,” said center Gavin Ware.
Humility ought remain easy from the aspect that the Bulldogs have yet to score consecutive victories in 2016. And while beating Arkansas was a big step in the right direction, there remains much work to do to secure a winning overall record with seven regular-season games ahead.
No wonder then that the head coach did not allow much time to celebrate a single victory. “Now we have to build on this,” Howland said. “And Georgia is going to be a very difficult opponent next-up.”
An unhappy one, too. Georgia suffered its own beat-down on the road this week at an aroused Kentucky, leaving them 13-9 and 6-5 SEC. That’s still in the top-half of this much-muddled league’s standings, but the post-season status took a heavy hit. A loss in Starkville could end any ambitions.
What the other Bulldogs have in their favor is a track record in the series. Georgia has won three-straight meetings and six of the last seven going back to 2010. Though, it’s worth remembering that the trio of fourth-year State seniors did get a victory in Athens way back in 2013 as freshmen.
Until this week Georgia had some positive momentum of their own with two solid wins. The backcourt features some very familiar names from sheer longevity in the program with seniors Kenny Gaines (13.7ppg) and Charles Mann (10.6), along with junior guard J.J. Frazier (15.8). Frazier and Gaines have combined for 107 treys and average a bit either-side of 40% accuracy at the arc. Mann plays more physical and has been to the free throw line 152 times already.
The main inside presence is 6-8, 240-pound soph Yante Maten, providing 15.6 points and 8.0 boards with 43 blocks. That sets up a most interesting matchup too, because he will square-off with State’s Ware. The big Dog, of course the only big Dog on this roster, compares directly at 16.4 points and 7.3 rebounds, and is the league’s surest inside shooter as well at 63%.
Howland was able to take advantage of MSU’s early strength Tuesday to get Ware more breathers, which contributed greatly to a 21-point, 10-rebound evening in just 22 minutes. Ware was able to go all-out the minutes he was on the floor this way, yet he also played smarter and avoided cheap fouls.
Mississippi State is supposed to be healthy for this weekend. Point guard IJ Ready (10.0, 97 assists) missed last Saturday’s loss at LSU and had to come off the bench against Arkansas. But his back spasms didn’t return and he is available for starting status again. This likely would have forward Travis Daniels (6.5ppg, 4.2 rpg) again seeing alternate duty, as guard Quindarry Weatherspoon (11.0ppg, 4.7rpg) has thrived as an out-of-spot ‘forward’ the last three weeks.
Tipoff is 7:00, in the second of a three-game homestand for State. The basketball contest also follows a full day of baseball activity outside Humphrey Coliseum, as MSU hosts the annual Fan Day beginning at 10:30 in the Palmeiro Center. An intrasquad scrimmage starts at 2:00 on Dudy Noble Field.
Howland certainly hopes everyone hangs around for hoops. After putting so much into place for the first time, the first-year coach figures something good has finally started again for Bulldog basketball.
“We have a chance to do some good for ourselves down the stretch.”