Mississippi State’s Ben Howland joined the rest of the league’s coaches on the SEC men’s basketball teleconference on Monday to discuss the Bulldogs recent performances and preview its match-ups this week.
Here is a transcript of Howland’s time on the call…
“We’re playing at the University of Kentucky. There can’t be a tougher venue or team to play against on the road with all the success they’ve had. I just caught the very tail end of coach (Andy) Kennedy‘s comment about not wanting to start out there next year. Everybody knows how tough it is.
“We started out with a tough loss at home against a very good Texas A&M team. We had our opportunities but credit them for holding onto a one-point win.
“Then the other day, I thought we had a chance at Arkansas down three with less than six minutes to go. We ended up losing by 14 which was really, really disappointing. We fought back a couple of different times and had our chances but then really got shellacked the last 3 ½ minutes of that game.
“But here we go playing against a very good Kentucky team that has great guard play in (Tyler) Ulis and (Jamal) Murray. If it’s not the, it’s one of the best backcourts in the country so we’ve got our hands full. It’s a great challenge.”
What happened in those last three minutes when you got shellacked?
Howland: “We really gave up some wide open 3’s. But for me, our ability to not score is what hurt us most. We shot 38 percent for the game and we’ve got to be able to perform better at the offensive end.
“I thought our inability to get to their 3-point shooters and they hit some great shots. Arkansas is especially good when they’ve got it going at home with that fan base. They made some big shots and shot an incredible percentage from 3 against us.
“But our inability to score really hurt us. That to me is what was really the problem for us. We kept coming up empty handed after cutting it down to three down the stretch.”
Where do you think the points can come from?
Howland: “They have to come from No. 1 Gavin (Ware) inside. That’s something where we’ve got to get him the ball and then when they double down get it back out and get some open shots for others.
“But we have to play through him. He’s our key low post player so we have to play through him better and handle the double team better. We had a few turnovers so hopefully we can handle a few of those double teams better.”
How do you feel Malik Newman is progressing?
Howland: “He’s been playing very solid. In the last game, which was his first true road SEC game, he didn’t shoot the ball great. He’s done a pretty good job handling the ball and has made some nice passes. We didn’t shoot the ball well the other night but there were a couple of passes he made where guys were open and didn’t finish wide open shots.
“Overall, he’s going through what even freshman goes through which is a first time experience of a lot of new things when you move from high school to a high major college. If you look over the course of our last half dozen games, his numbers are up in both shooting percentage and points scored. He has to get better defensively and at rebounding but that’s very typical.”
What stands out about Kentucky’s inside play?
Howland: “(Alex) Poythress is obviously really strong, physical and aggressive. He had a huge game in their last outing which I’m sure is a confidence booster for him going into our game. He had 27 against Alabama on Saturday. He’s a guy that’s been around and been a part of some great teams.
“Then (Marcus) Lee is so active. He runs the floor so well and follows everything. They always are a good rebounding team. They really rebound the ball well at both ends of the floor.
“If you look at their other bigs, I really like Skal (Labissiere) – the big kid from Haiti. He’s active, blocks shots and makes plays. He’s just getting better and better. I also love Lee, I think he’s a good player. (Derek) Willis stretches the floor for them because he shoots the ball from 3 so well. They have a lot of nice balance up front.”