Reggie Perry will make his Mississippi State debut Friday night against Austin Peay, Photo by: Blake Williams/MSU Athletic Media Relations
November 7, 2018 10:16:44 PM
STARKVILLE -- The stretch that doomed Mississippi State's NCAA tournament chances last year was the first three weeks of January. The Bulldogs shot 26.1 percent from 3-point range and 40.1 percent from the field in losing five of those six games.
Less than a year later, MSU is No. 18 in the nation and expected to be among the top five of a Southeastern Conference that may be the second-best conference. It's possible merely making the NCAA tournament won't be enough to satisfy expectations.
The combination of those events brings a simple conclusion, one coach Ben Howland has reached on his own.
"For us to be as good as we can be this year, we have to be a better shooting team," he said.
He made sure the team knew it. The team responded by spending a summer responding to his call to action.
MSU's regular season begins 6 p.m. Friday (SEC Network+) against Austin Peay, a season that could be made or broken by how well MSU shoots, particularly how well it shoots from 3-point range. If that is truly what determines their fate, the Bulldogs are willing to test their luck.
"I think this is a team that's going to shoot the ball a lot better," Howland said. "We spent a lot of time in the offseason working on shooting and a lot of time our players spent on their own. They put an incredible amount of time in on their game on their own, and I'm really pleased with that.
"We worked on form, we worked on getting a lot of reps in the offseason, these guys were phenomenal living in the gym. On their own, they've done an incredible job of getting the time in. So much of shooting comes down to confidence. That's what's really evolved with our guys, and I'm proud of them."
All of this took place over the summer, when coaches are limited in the amount of time they can spend with players. Senior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon said they took the burden on themselves, organizing times with managers and graduate assistants for them to visit the practice facility and take their shots.
Each player took on their shooting time with their own agendas. Quinndary Weatherspoon wanted to make 200 3-pointers per day; younger brother, sophomore guard Nick, wanted to make his left arm less obstructive in his shooting motion. Junior guard Tyson Carter was shooting for confidence.
The results have been obvious, even if there's no regular season game to prove it. Nick Weatherspoon said he was making 20 shots in a row at times in the summer, something he didn't do before. Howland remarked early in practice how hard it was to leave any player open because all of them were knocking down shots.
Howland identified the Weatherspoons, senior forward Aric Holman, Carter and junior point guard Lamar Peters as the team's primary 3-point shooters, but he shows no hesitation in allowing freshmen forwards Reggie Perry and Robert Woodard to let it fly.
The offseason of shooting was not in hopes of creating a trigger-happy team. It was designed to create a balanced attack with balanced results.
"We have a lot of guys that like to beat and bang and we have a lot of guys that are good in transition, so once we get that offense with the shooting involved, it's going to be that triple-threat, I guess," Holman said.
Quinndary Weatherspoon hopes to see all of those weapons at work. He knows he and Woodard can post up smaller guards if given the opportunity; he also knows forward Abdul Ado has developed the offensive game he was missing last season. Peters can penetrate any defense and now, he has the shooters to kick out to.
"We're going to be a balanced team, I think," Quinndary Weatherspoon said.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson