Visiting Lehigh used zone defense to throw Mississippi State entirely out of synch in an 87-73 victory at Humphrey Coliseum. The worst part? Nothing caught Mississippi State by surprise about Lehigh’s change of tactics.
“We prepared for it all week,” Bulldog guard IJ Ready said. “The coaching staff did a great job telling us what to do. We just have to execute.”
Instead Lehigh killed the home team’s hopes. he Mountain Hawks left 2-2, while the Bulldogs are 3-2.
Friday’s game was the first for State since losing sophomore guard and leading scorer Quinndary Weatherspoon to a wrist injury, suffered in last weekend’s Charleston tournament. Coach Ben Howland knew Lehigh was challenging enough for his young team at full-strength. “I was worried about this game, probably a poor job on my part the way it was scheduled.”
Weatherspoon’s season-ending injury only made the matchup more problematic, and at each end since he was both the leading scorer and lead defender. His absence certainly showed as Lehigh shot 52% for the evening mixing inside attacks and outside attempts.
“They totally picked us apart with their offense and execution,” Howland said. It didn’t help that often-confused Dogs weren’t able to double the Hawk posts consistently; or read switches and find the open shooters. For that matter confident Lehigh guards were able to hit with hands in their faces as well.
Yet through ten minutes Mississippi State was playing hard, aggressive, and efficiently. Howland’s team led 15-10 and 17-12 with made-treys by guards Tyson Carter and Lamar Peters. Then Lehigh changed defenses.
The result was no Bulldog baskets from 12:41 to 2:30 and just three free throws. State missed a dozen shots in the stretch, half of them three-point attempts over the zone. Some treys were tried because nothing else came open. The rest Howland said were rushed. “They really stretched us with the zone.
“And we were quick to shoot at times, our selection as not good and led to transition opportunities for them.”
Lehigh still didn’t go ahead until 9:16 on a Tim Kempton jumper. Their next points only came at 5:53. But the rest of the half saw four made-treys as the Hawks built a 38-29 lead. The Dog deficit would have been worse without Carter’s dozen points with two treys.
Mississippi State even began the second half hot with a dozen points in three minutes. The problem was Lehigh mostly matched it, not letting the Bulldogs get closer than 48-41 and 50-43. By the ten-minute mark it was a 16-point lead as “They cut us to shreds,” Howland said.
Ready did what he could to carry the club with 19 of his game-best 20 points coming in the second half and most of that down the stretch. “They were getting it to me in the right spots and setting screens. I wanted to be aggressive and try to get us going.”
Howland couldn’t complain much about his revamped starting lineup as all five Dogs were in double-digits. Carter finished with 16 points, guard Mario Kegler 12 more and guard Lamar Peters 11. But this also mean the bench was shorter and the three backups who did combine for 42 minutes gave just four points and a lone basket.
Lehigh’s starting five were all also in double-figures led by Kahron Ross and Kyle Leufroy with 18 apiece. The difference mostly came down to a 13-4 edge in bench scoring and the Hawks making five more treys.
Well, that and the defensive change State couldn’t adjust to. “It was competitive, then they went zone all of a sudden,” Howland said. “It seemed we were stuck there forever.”
The Bulldogs continue a five-game home stand Monday evening with a 6:00 tip against Northwestern State.