Mississippi State (13-4, 3-3) pulled away late against No. 16 Auburn to stay in the top-25 and in the race for the SEC Title. Quinndary Weatherspoon left The Hump with 27 points and shot 4/5 from deep and a perfect 11/11 from the free throw line. Lamar Peters fouled out, but also finished with his first career double-double with 16 points and 10 assists. Now that the Bulldogs are back at .500 in the SEC, they have an opportunity to get a game ahead and some momentum against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Alabama (12-7, 3-3) was one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament last year and lost their best player, Collin Sexton, to the NBA Draft. Now eyes are on head coach Avery Johnson to see what he can do after losing a NBA lottery pick. The Tide opened conference play with a 77-75 win over Kentucky in Tuscaloosa, but have lost 4 of their last 6 since that victory.
The biggest struggle of the Tide thus far is the ability to shoot from the free throw line (68.8%). The Bulldogs need to take advantage of their shooting from the line and give no easy baskets and make them earn each point. Freshman Guard Kira Lewis Jr. has been Alabama’s best player so far this season. Lewis Jr. is scoring 13.9 ppg and averaging more than 30 minutes per game. Sophomore John Petty and Senior Donta Hall are right behind Lewis Jr. in scoring, but Hall is averaging 8.9 rebounds per game. Allowing offensive rebounds has been a struggle for the Bulldogs the past few games; the Dawgs cannot allow Bama to get seconds chance points if they want to win.
Mississippi State currently has 5 different players averaging 1 steal per game and 4 of those players averaging double-digit points. Nick Weatherspoon is quietly having an amazing season in terms of shooting. Nick is shooting 48.3% from the field and leads the team with 44.4% from 3; Lamar Peters and Aric Holman are also shooting better than 40% from 3. Q Weatherspoon has been our most reliable shooter from the free throw line (85.6%), shoots 47.8% from the field, and 34.9% from deep. Coach Ben Howland wanted Q to shoot more from the outside against Auburn, and that turned into a 4/5 finish from deep.
Mississippi State and Alabama are both in the middle of the pack in the SEC. This game can have a huge impact on the standings in the conference. Mississippi State has the talent to compete with Kentucky and Tennessee for the SEC Title, but they have to take care of business outside of their matchups against the Wildcats and the Volunteers. MSU isn't only competing for the SEC Title, but seed placement in the SEC Tournament and in the NCAA Tournament. If the Bulldogs handle the Tide in Tuscaloosa, it will move them to 2 games behind Tennessee and in 5th place in the SEC. Coach Howland will have the gameplan prepared to defeat the Tide in their own arena.