Weatherspoon scored 18 of his game-leading 29 points to keep his team competitive for the first half. In the second, Peters took over with five treys in succession en route to 23 total points. Between their individual fireworks Mississippi State was able to offset a sputtering start and improve to 13-6, 4-3 SEC.
“Hopefully this gives us momentum,” Coach Ben Howland said. “We needed this win desperately.”
Coming off consecutive losses last week, even beating a winless league team like Missouri was big for Bulldogs. Doing it with big games from a variety of hot Dogs made the success exciting.
Nobody was hotter by-halves than Weatherspoon and Peters.
Sophomore Weatherspoon quite literally carried his club for a tense opening half, scoring 18 of his points in the period while teammates managed just 21 together. Weatherspoon has had some cool stretches in recent games, but most everything was falling for him this time.
“I just wanted to come out and be aggressive and do whatever I could to help my team get a win.”
His real job was keeping his team from losing at intermission by more than 43-39. The Tigers threw a variety of zone looks at State which worked on everyone but Weatherspoon. With two minutes before break it was a nine-point Missouri lead, as the Bulldogs took and missed too many long shots and weren’t getting enough paint points either.
Coach Kim Anderson called it, yes, a tale of two halves. In the first his Tigers did a good enough job mixing defenses and “maybe keeping them a little off-balance. Obviously Peters and Weatherspoon took over and we had no answer. Give them credit.”
Peters wasn’t cold in the first half. He just wasn’t on the court. After hitting one trey-try in the period the freshman picked up two fouls. A substitute went to the table but the wrong Dog left and immediately Peters was whistled for #3, and in the process banged a knee too.
It was Weatherspoon and forward Mario Kegler closing fast that cut the deficit to four points at intermission. Howland didn’t talk offense in the locker room though. The coach stressed defense and boardwork after the Tigers hit almost 62% of shots before the break.
“He just told us we had to play harder,” said Weatherspoon. “They shot 31, 32% in the second half.”
Dog defense did turn up the second half heat. Peters? He was just about nuclear.
Though, Peters didn’t check-in until State had finally taken a lead with more good work from Weatherspoon and Kegler. The latter actually got the three-point laser lit when Kegler hit for a 57-51 lead. “That shot in the corner really gave us momentum,” Howland said.
Peters pushed it beyond mere momentum. He hammered home long shots at 11:16, 10:27, and 9:50 before Missouri could call time down 66-57. Play resumed and so did Peters, striking again at 9:23 and 8:42. His five-straight strikes pushed the Bulldogs out to a 72-59 lead before both he and Kegler finally missed.
“I didn’t to force anything,” Peters said. “I just wanted to take open shots when they came to me.” It’s true, only one of his trey-tries was close to pressured and it was swished anyway.
Peters’ torrid tear slightly obscured the bigger overall evening for Weatherspoon, who had eight boards and four assists to go with the career-best 29 points. Though had Peters not been limited to 20 minutes by the fouls and bruised knee, he might have surpassed the teammate. Peters was 8-of-12 overall and 7-of-11 at the arc.
Kegler finished with a comparatively low-key 16 points and five rebounds. Forward Aric Holman did not start this one, as Howland wanted in his words to “light a fire” under the sophomore. It worked on defens with four of State’s five blocks and better second half defense.
The only real downside was 13-of-25 free throwing by Dogs, as center Schnider Herard was just 1-of-7 at the stripe. In fact State shot a bit better at the curved line, 52.2% on treys to 52.0% on one-pointers.
Missouri got 18 points from both forward Jordan Barnett and guard Jordan Geist, while forward Kevin Puryear added 13. The Tigers still had the better of the boards slightly, and out-scored State in bench points 24 to 13.
All that mattered to Howland was putting last week’s losses behind, for that matter shaking off a sketchy first half, and playing more to potential. Especially, the coach said, on defense.
“We still fought. Our defense really fed our offense.”
The Bulldogs are back on the road for games at Alabama and Ole Miss.