State Snaps Skid to Sweep Season Series with Tigers; Teams Rematch Wednesday in SEC Tourney

Since this had to be his final home game, IJ Ready made it worth his while.

Mississippi State’s lone upperclassman celebrated senior day with a career-high 13 assists, directing the Bulldogs to an 88-76 final over Louisiana State. With their win the Dogs (15-15, 6-12 SEC) finally snapped a seven-loss streak on the last day of the regular season, and evened the overall record going into the SEC Tournament.

The visiting Tigers left 10-20, 2-16 and will rematch immediately with Mississippi State next Wednesday in Nashville. This was the 100th Bulldog win in the series and second of this season.

And, of course, the last Ready will experience in Humphrey Coliseum. “It means a lot. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, to come out with a win means a lot to me.”

Watching Ready operate this way meant a lot to his coach, too. “He played like a senior should,” Ben Howland said. “He made terrific decisions and really and got the ball moving.”

Not just moving, but moving in the right ways and with the right results. Mississippi State shot a solid overall 55%, their best offense in weeks. But on anything inside the arc the Dogs were a sizzling 29-of-44, the largest part of that on excellent ball movement directed by Ready.

In fact, “I was on them about missing,” he joked. “I wanted 15!”

“His numbers speak for itself,” guard Xavian Stapleton said of Ready’s results. “He made the right plays at the right spots at the right time.”

Besides the scoring passes Ready contributed seven points and four rebounds. A trio of teammates got double-digit points led by backcourt mate Quinndary Weatherspoon’s 18. Starting forward Aric Holman added 14 points in just 19 minutes; and Stapleton scored the same total in 20 minutes. The only Bulldog without a basket was backup center E.J. Datcher.

“We shared the ball better,” Ready said. “It’s big for everybody on the court to contribute.”

“Mississippi State did a tremendous job getting off to a really good start,” said Tiger Coach Johnny Jones. “I didn’t think we were great on either end for the first half. The second half we got going but we put ourselves in too big of a hole.”

That hole was at least partly dug due to a defensive decision, to put big post Duop Reath out top and obscure the 5-11 Ready’s view of things. What it did was leave other Tigers trying to close gaps in their zone sets…which they could not. The Bulldogs back-cut LSU to pieces which had much to do with combined 11-of-15 inside shooting—layups or dunks really--by guards Weatherspoon and Stapleton.

“With the rim protector out on me, there’s no better finishers than Q and Xavian,” Ready said. “They did a great job cutting.”

LSU did lead early, and briefly. Once forward Mario Kegler made a couple of free throws the Bulldogs were up 6-5 and never to trail again. Ready did not even attempt a shot until 7:59 of the half, making it and drawing a foul and free throw in the process for a 26-17 lead. The margin reached 48-30 at halftime as just before the buzzer guard Tyson Carter heaved a bomb that dropped before the buzzer.

“The guy knocked down a big three and that’s a momentum-builder for them,” Jones said.

Mississippi State’s lead didn’t drop below double-digits the whole second half, as the Tigers could only get within 75-65 with 5:24 remaining. Consecutive LSU turnovers stopped their surge there as State got a couple of rebound baskets. The Bulldogs would thrive on their own misses in fact, and score 20 total points on second chances inside LSU’s under-manned zones.

All five Tigers scored in double-digits, paced by the backcourt of Antonio Blakeney and Skylar Mays with 15 apiece. Guard Brandon Sampson added 14 points, while Duop posted a double-double of a dozen points and boards.

Howland was pleased with his frontcourt for a change. “Aric and Schnider (Herard) gave us really good productivity, and in limited minutes.” Of course the post play was made simpler both by LSU’s defensive approach and Ready being, well, ready to take advantage.

“All these kids wanted to not only win for themselves but help IJ go out the right way,” the coach said.

Ready even had a souvenir of sorts, a net to take away. Not a game net, it was prepared earlier. Ready still brought it with him to post-game.

“All my teammates said they’re not going to let me go out with another losing season.”

But to stay .500 or better, the Bulldogs must win at least one more time. And, against the same opponent in a rather rare instant rematch for the conference tournament. State is seeded 12th, the Tigers 13th, and each knows the season ends in Nashville. Neither wants to be leaving after the first day.

“If we lose, it’s over,” Howland said. “So we have to have everything on the line. And this will be a much more difficult game with LSU on a neutral site. Hopefully we can have a good game.”

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