A third-chance putback by Hunter Mosquera-Perea at 1.4 seconds gave visiting East Tennessee State a 67-65 victory. The Buccaneers left Humphrey Coliseum 8-2.
Ben Howland’s Bulldogs are 6-3. And, frustrated. “Obviously a tough loss,” the coach said. “You could see our youth against their experience.”
The much-more-veteran Buccaneers did put their accumulated experience to better use on the road. After giving away a double-digit lead in the second half, then watching Bulldog guard Lamar Peters tie it 65-65 on a long trey at 10.9 seconds, East Tennessee State could have crumbled.
They did miss a couple of shots for the lead, a jumper by Desonta Bradford and a tip attempt from David Burrell. But a third Buccaneer was in the area. Mosquera-Perea caught the carom right side of the rim and rolled the shot in.
“I thought we made a great comeback,” Howland said. “We just needed to make a stop.” Which technically his team did, twice. But “They got three shots at it,” Howland said. “I’ll be curious to see who blocked out and who didn’t.”
Howland and club won’t want to watch the first half again. A ten-day break between games for finals gave Mississippi State much-needed practice time. Results weren’t evident though as the Bulldogs sputtered at each end and on both backboards.
Trailing 10-6 at 16:45, the visitors went on a 10-2 tear. By intermission ETSU led 31-26 as State shot just 37%. If not for guard Mario Kegler’s seven points and five from guard Tyson Carter the Bulldogs would have been in much worse shape.
Guard Quinndary Weatherspoon struggled badly, missing six of seven shots and not scoring until 3:47.
“I don’t think they were doing any things special,” Weatherspoon said. “I wasn’t shooting the ball very well tonight.” He finished 3-of-14 and did most of his damage at the foul line in the second half.
The comeback was sparked by forward Aric Holman working harder for close shots, and even throwing in an open trey. Peters had a big hand from the perimeter, too as the Bulldogs nibbled at the deficit. They were helped by ETSU going cold from long range, missing four-straight in as many series and missing all the rebounds.
State caught up 54-54 with five minutes left but could never go in front. After Peters’ bomb for the final tie Howland wanted to trap the ballhandler if possible, and not foul at all. It nearly worked out until that one last putback chance. Bucs Coach Steve Forbes had lectured his team on turnovers and rebounds.
ETSU won the boards battle by just one, but “That last rebound gave us the advantage,” Forbes said. Bradford led the Bucs with 15 points and T.J. Cromer 14 with a pair of threes. Mosquera-Perea had just five points but seven rebounds including the decider.
Holman finished with a game-best 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting, to go with six rebounds and a career-high four blocks. Weatherspoon did get to the line often enough to compile 13 points, Kegler added 12 on 5-of-7 shooting but wasn’t a big second-half factor.
“I was feeling it early. When I came out of the game I don’t know if it took the confidence out of me.”
Peters added ten points off the bench, nine off is trio of treys.
Howland wasn’t happy with State’s energy to open the game, and even less when some Dogs complained post-misses about no foul calls. “Instead of sprinting back,” the coach said.
“We played way harder in the second half, I felt we were a step slow to start the game.”
The Bulldogs have a few more days entirely free for practices here now with school out. They resume the schedule Monday in Jackson, playing Southern Mississippi at 8:00. It is the first meeting of the state schools on hardwood since 2001 when those Bulldogs knocked USM off in the NIT.