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…
“It was a great week for us last week. We were very fortunate. We were down (to Vanderbilt) by 17 with 14 minutes to go and our guys did a great job fighting their way back. We had the ball bounce our way on the last play of the game. We actually air-banked the shot with about eight or nine seconds left and it caromed back to us luckily and we were able to get the ball Q (Quinndary) Weatherspoon, who made a huge shot. That was great for our team.
“We kind of took that momentum and played our best game of the year at Alabama, who is a very good team. I think both of those teams will end up in the (NCAA) Tournament and that’s what makes this week so special. It shows we are capable of beating good teams on a given day when we do what we need to do.
What has been the biggest keys in the last two games?
Howland: “I think we’ve played better defense. I think we’ve done a better job with our shot selection. It’s probably those two things.
“We know we’ve got our hands full. (Texas) A&M has got a great team. If you look at some of their wins in the conference, they’re coming off beating Kentucky and really good non-conference wins over Gonzaga and Texas. The Iowa State win was a great win. So this is a team that’s 15-1 at home so we know that our hands are really full.
“I love Tyler Davis. To get nine offensive rebounds against a team like Kentucky is just tremendous. Jalen Jones is just really having a special year. He’ll get a vote from me for all-league along with (Alex) Caruso. Both of those kids are really good. (Danuel) House is having a great year and obviously (Chris) Collins has really stepped it up in terms of being a great leader and a great distributor and a very good defender.
“I love (DJ) Hogg and (Admon) Gilder off the bench. They have a really good team with nine very good players. I think they are going to be able to do damage in the NCAA Tournament. I think South Carolina is a team that nobody is going to want to play come NCAA Tournament time.”
What will you try to do differently against the Aggies after losing by one the first time around?
Howland: “The difference was we played all zone in that game and in this game coming up we’ll play man-to-man primarily if our depth will allow us to. We only played with eight players in our last game.
“Malik Newman couldn’t even play because his back locked up on him. It remains to be seen what his status will be for this week. That may force us to play some zone.
“But we have to stand up to them on the boards. They had over 20 offensive rebounds here and just repeated that against Kentucky in their last game. One of the things I’m most fearful of is how they rebound the ball at both ends of the floor.”
How will teams sympathize with you having a star player out?
Howland: “I think everybody has empathy for a player that is a good kid that gets hurt. I think you all do that as coaches. We know they only have a window of time where they’re able to play this game at the highest level.
“You just hope its nothing serious and I don’t think it is. Everybody sustains injuries throughout the year and has different things that happen. You look at the poor kid at Kentucky (Alex Poythress) with all the injuries he’s had. You feel terrible for him as a senior and he’s a really good player. My heart goes out to him.
“There are a number of kids that go through things throughout the year. Some are able to come back and some can’t. We had a player this year who really impacted our team that wasn’t even eligible to play in Xavian Stapleton. He blew his knee out the first day of school and missed the whole year of getting better and improving but more importantly bringing competition in practice every day.
“We’ve had 10 scholarship players to practice on the same day less than half a dozen times this year. That really makes it hard to practice and compete and get ready for games when you can’t do it on a daily basis.”
What are the defensive challenges of defending Retin Obasohan?
Howland: “He is a load, let me tell you. I think he’s one of the best players in our league. Obviously we struggled but I thought ‘Chicken’ (Craig Sword) did a great job on him during the game on Saturday. He had a couple of baskets late in the game and ended up with 22 (points) and one at the end of the half.
“He earned everything he got against us on Saturday. He had 35 at LSU and killed us in our game here with 25 and like eight and seven. He’s a tremendous player. There scheme is really good because he’s constantly attacking bigs coming off the pick-and-roll and he’s so good at finishing around the rim with his size. He’s 6-2, 210-pounds and is like a great Nick Saban running back with basketball skills.
“He’s just a beast so good luck to the people that are left on their schedule trying to contain him.”
Are people outside the program starting to take notice of Weatherspoon?
Howland: “I would think that our opponents that see him on a weekly basis on film have to be impressed. He’s a kid that continued to improve. That’s what’s so exciting for me as a coach to have a kid that continues to improve as a player.
“His jumpshot has continued to improve from June until now. He’s much better defensively. He takes a sense of pride and ownership. In the second half of the Vanderbilt game, (Matthew) Fisher-Davis had lit us up for 17 in the first half so we switched the match-ups and put (Weatherspoon) on him in the second half.
“On Saturday, his guy that’s a really good player (Riley) Norris doesn’t even end up with one shot attempt, which was stunning. I can’t give all the credit to ‘Q’ but how that kid doesn’t get a shot up. But you have to give ‘Q’ a lot of credit because he was the one matched up with him a lot of the time.
“He’s playing both ends. He’s a good offensive rebounder and is in the top 20 rebounders in the conference. I don’t know if you saw the dunk he had on Saturday but it was reminiscent of one of my former players in a similar situation at UCLA, who will go nameless (Russell Westbrook) but you can guess if you watch the play. It was incredible.”