Things seemed different on Saturday.
The last few years of Mississippi State basketball have been a living hell. Since 2012, three different head coaches have walked the home sideline of Humphrey Coliseum. Mississippi State hasn't won more than 14 games, seven SEC games, nor have they finished higher than 11th in the conference.
Things seemed familiar on Saturday.
Mississippi State fans have always been proud of their basketball program. Beginning with four SEC titles in the 1950s and 60s, to modern times. From 1991-2009, the Bulldogs appeared in nine NCAA Tournaments, won three SEC Tournaments, won two SEC championships, and appeared in the Sweet Sixteen and Final Four. What has transpired these last five years is a level of bad that Mississippi State fans haven't witnessed in decades, and some, like myself, in their entire lifetimes.
Things seemed nostalgic on Saturday.
State fans have been yearning for old times. In reality, not even that old, just the basketball that we saw in January 2012, boasting a 15-3 record with a national rank of 18. It was just five years ago. We've been longing for it and desperately needing it. At times, it was as if we could never get back there.
But, on Saturday, it all fell back into place. Things seemed different. Things seemed familiar. Things seemed nostalgic.
Things seemed right.
Mississippi State defeated Texas A&M, 67-59, to improve to 12-4 and 3-1 in SEC play on the season - the fastest State has gotten to 12 wins since 2012 and the best start to conference play since 2010.
Fans were excited about this game. Coming off two consecutive conference wins over LSU and Arkansas, this was going to be the big moment. This was going to be the game where the fans showed up, and the players and coaches had to deliver. Simply put, this was Ben Howland’s biggest game in his year-and-a-half long tenure at Mississippi State.
This team did something that no team has been able to do in five years - win when it matters. This was a monumental step forward. This team showed that it has the talent, the fight, and the intensity inside of them that can translate into a winning basketball team.
It’s I.J. Ready, the lone senior on this club, who has endured more losing than any other player on the team. Although he didn't get much production in the box score, his defensive will was imposed on the Aggies, pushing himself and the team to a level needed to win the ballgame.
It’s Lamar Peters, the talented freshman who lost his father on Thursday. His contribution was pure emotion. State found themselves down 10-0 after the first seven minutes of the game, and everything that built up to this moment was slowly crashing down in front of our eyes. But, Lamar Peters changed it. He entered the game and turned the outlook of the game on its head, willing the Bulldogs to a 14-2 run and never letting up after that.
It’s Schnider Herard, another talented freshman, who has struggled mightily throughout the season. He heard constantly that State has no post presence, and he would struggle against the size of the Aggies. What he decided to do was have a career day, leading the team with 16 points and being the man to which State could turn for a bucket.
It’s Quinndary Weatherspoon, the face of the program. Last year, while Malik Newman was making all the headlines, Q was working strenuously to be the guy. He has embraced his role as the team leader, shaking off a rocky 1st half to score 13 points with three 3s.
It’s Ben Howland, who was put in charge of a nearly submerged ship. This program was put on his shoulders; it was his job to bring the ship out of the water, repair it, and get it moving again. No one could have taken on the responsibility better. He was a guy who never coached a day of his life in the southern United States but has embraced the culture of Starkville and Mississippi State University. He wanted a team State fans can be proud of, and as he walked off the court on Saturday with a victory, he stopped in front of the student section, raised his hands in the air, and started fist pumping. He knows he has accomplished the first thing he's needed - a fanbase that believes.
Here was Ben Howland when he pointed to the student section after the win. He was ecstatic to see a crowd at The Hump. pic.twitter.com/aPPRZwzilQ— Robby Donoho (@RobbyDonoho) January 14, 2017
The Humphrey Coliseum was louder and more energetic than it has been in five years. The tide seems to be turning in our favor. Saturday’s win over Texas A&M proves that the shackles are being let off of our ankles. It’s made our fanbase excited. It’s shone a light in our program, for which we have yearned.
Mississippi State basketball is turning a corner. The state of the program seems different, familiar, and nostalgic. It all just feels right.