Weatherspoon returned from a two-game absence to torch Oregon State for 16 first-half points and lead Mississippi State’s 74-57 victory. The Bulldogs improved to 5-2 at expense of the 3-5 Beavers.
Guard Weatherspoon had missed Monday’s tight win over Northwestern State with a tear to a left-wrist ligament. Initially he was to have surgery and spend the rest of his sophomore season recovering. A second check showed Weatherspoon was unlikely to do any more damage playing.
“I cancelled the surgery Tuesday,” Weatherspoon said. “I didn’t really feel that much pain. I felt like one little pop, I don’t remember what play.”
By halftime it was the Beavers hurting. Weatherspoon popped a perfect 6-of-6 from the field including four made-treys. That was double the three-point output of his teammates three nights earlier.
“I didn’t know I was going to hit all those threes!” Weatherspoon said. “But all I’ve been doing is shooting.”
Weatherspoon cooled off in halftime, settling for 21 points and missing his only second-half shot; a forced trey-try as the shot clock ran out.
It wasn’t a perfect half. “I came out rusty, I had two turnovers,” Weatherspoon said as his wrist had kept him from doing much dribbling or passing in his only full practice. The mistakes allowed Oregon State to take their one and only lead, by hitting a longball of their own at 18:22.
Otherwise, it was all Bulldogs, all evening, with Weatherspoon setting the pace. He added four steals and four boards to the offensive output in 30 minutes.
“He’s the ultimate team guy. He’s all about Mississippi State and his teammates,” said Coach Ben Howland, who had just one—one—criticism of his ace. It was a too-fancy fastbreak pass attempt in the last minute before halftime with a 23-point lead.
“Throwing the ball off the backboard,” Howland said. “I wanted to be up 25!” As it turned out intermission’s margin was 26 anyway.
Because, the entire team responded to having their leader back in action. “With him on the court we all just come together and play,” forward Mario Kegler said. The shooting touch certainly seemed contagious, too. Kegler and two other Dogs also threw in threes in the period as State was 7-of-9 at the arc. This, after a 2-of-15 Monday showing.
Weatherspoon had nearly as many points at halftime as the Beavers did trailing 45-19. Howland saw in scouting Oregon State didn’t have a true point guard, and schemed accordingly. Point guard IJ Ready attacked first, and from there Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters, Eli Wright, et.al.
The result was a dozen turnovers by halftime and 21 for the game.
“We tried to focus on that, and did a great job,” Howland said. “Everybody was swarming to the ball and 28 points off turnovers was the stat of the game.”
Oregon State did get something going to open the last half, while the Bulldogs relaxed a bit. Some of this was intentional as Howland said the first-half effort took lots out of everyone. Also, State players took care to make one and two extra passes around the Beaver zone. It didn’t always produce points but did let the young team learn more about how to attack the defense that has troubled them in the early season.
Kegler had a dozen points on 4-of-5 shooting with ten points apiece from guards Peters and Wright. State finished 11-of-19 at the arc, not at all their usual efficiency, and was 50% for the whole floor. Guard Stephen Thompson led OSU with 20 points, guard JaQuori McLaughlin added a dozen and center Cheikh N’diaye 10.
“This was a very good step for us tonight,” said Howland, now 19-19 in his second Mississippi State season as the rebuilding continues. The threat of losing Weatherspoon boded ill, but after much study and consultation it was left up to him whether to give it a shot for the rest of the season. Plus, Howland said, he had four games left before hitting the medical redshirt limit.
“I looked at the big picture,” Weatherspoon said. “I just tried to wait it out and see how it felt.” Obviously the wrist felt fine and now the Bulldogs feel better as the pre-conference homestand continues.
State hosts Georgia State this Sunday at 4:00.