By Gene Phelps
Darryl Wilson’s at his net-popping best when he just aims and shoots.
But earlier this season, Mississippi State’s All-SEC senior guard strayed away from his natural shooter’s instinct while going through a mild shooting slump.
“I was going through stages where I was mechanical,” said Wilson, who leads the No. 25-ranked Bulldogs in scoring, averaging 17.6 points per game. “I was thinking, are my elbows locked in, I’m I releasing the ball right, how long was I staying up, when was I coming down.
“A lot of things were going through my mind. I was trying so hard to make the shot that it affected my shot.”
Things got so bad for Wilson that he went through a three-game period where he averaged just 7.3 points, scoring two against Arkansas, 14 against South Carolina and six against Tennessee. He went a career-worst 0-for-10 from the field in the loss to the Razorbacks.
“My shot just wasn’t falling,” he said.
Mississippi State coach Richard Williams says his 6-foot-1 gunner wasn’t in a slump.
“Yes, he was not shooting the percentage that he has shot in the past, but in practice he was shooting the lights out,” Williams said. “In all the shooting drills he was making shot after shot, just like he usually does.”
The problem, Williams says, is that Wilson wasn’t getting the open looks at the basket that he got last season from former point guard T.J. Honore and former small forward Marcus Grant.
“He just wasn’t getting the shots he needed to be getting,” Williams said. “That’s what we have been working on.”
Whatever the Bulldogs are doing to get Wilson some good looks at the basket, it’s working. Wilson has averaged 24.7 points in his last four games and Mississippi State has won five straight games to climb back into contention for the SEC Western Division title.
Mississippi State is currently tied with Arkansas in the division with a 7-4 conference mark (.636 percentage) and a 16-5 overall record heading into Saturday’s 4 p.m. game at Ole Miss.
Wilson’s best games have been his last two against Arkansas and Oklahoma. He made up for his 0-for-Bud Walton disaster with a 9-of-13, 26-point effort in State’s 78-63 home win over the Razorbacks. In Sunday’s 76-71 win over the Sooners, he scored a season-high 32 points, hitting 8-of-13 from the field, including four 3-pointers.
For his effort against Arkansas and Oklahoma, Wilson was named the SEC Player of the Week for the second time this season.
“Darryl has stepped up his offensive game and given this team a boost,” said sophomore point guard Marcus Bullard. “I know it’s boosted my assists a lot lately (smile). He’s really shooting well.”
Williams said Bullard and the rest of the Bulldogs are doing a good job getting Wilson better looks.
“His teammates have started creating shots for him with more penetration than we had earlier in the year,” Williams said. “Darryl has also become more active on offense.”
And Wilson is thankful for the help.
“The best thing for the team is for my shots to be falling,” he said, then smiled. “… I never lost my shot. It just wasn’t going in. I was thinking about it too much. Now, I’m just catching the ball in stride and letting it go.”
And much to the delight of Mississippi State fans, it’s going in.