January 6, 2018 10:40:32 PM
OXFORD -- All the Mississippi State men's basketball team needed was a couple of buckets.
Its defense held Ole Miss, which was ranked in the top 50, according to Ken Pomeroy's advanced statistics, to 34 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range. The Bulldogs also held Terence Davis, the Rebels' leading scorer, to one field goal on 13 attempts. As a result, MSU led by 11 points with less than 11 minutes to play.
Unfortunately, MSU couldn't convert against a 1-3-1 zone and couldn't close, falling 64-58 in a Southeastern Conference game at The Pavilion at Ole Miss.
"We forced them to try to make jump shots, which has not been their strength all year," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "Game pressure got involved and we were fortunate to get some stops."
Kennedy stretched the 1-3-1 zone vertically at the top to present some trapping elements to make every touch for guard Quinndary Weatherspoon difficult and to force guard Nick Weatherspoon to take tough shots.
Quinndary Weatherspoon went 3-for-12 from the field, while Nick went 3-for-7 on two-pointers, 13 percent worse than his season average.
Kennedy was willing to game that the Bulldogs wouldn't be able to capitalize on the openings in the corner against the 1-3-1 zone. The move paid off, as MSU, which entered the game shooting 30.7 percent from 3-point range, shot 21.7 percent (5-for-23) from behind the arc.
MSU coach Ben Howland was pleased with the quality of the shots down the stretch even though his team missed all eight 3-pointers it took in the final eight minutes.
"They're going to fall if we keep putting in the work like coach tells us to," Quinndary Weatherspoon said.
MSU countered the zone by putting 6-foot-6, 210-pound guard Xavian Stapleton at the power forward spot. Stapleton's versatility presented matchup problems and forced Ole Miss into foul trouble.
But Ole Miss (9-6, 2-1) was forced to go to a lineup it almost never uses, with guard Markel Crawford at the top of the zone and guard Breein Tyree in the back.
"We played really good for the first 30 minutes. We just didn't handle the nine-point lead in the last eight minutes or so," Howland said. "We just have to play smarter with the ball down the stretch."
From there, Ole Miss sold out to get to the basket.
"I was just pleased we got downhill. That was our goal," Kennedy said. "Mississippi State's good defensively. They're long. They really try to pack in on you to keep you out of the lane and hedge those ball screens, so I was trying to create some lanes for (Breein Tyree) to get downhill."
Tyree delivered with two layups in the final minute to win the game.
As Quinndary Weatherspoon said after a loss to Cincinnati, all MSU can do from here is take the experience and improve from it. It did so last time, reeling off five-straight wins, including a victory against No. 22 Arkansas earlier this week.
MSU will return to action at 6 p.m. Wednesday (SEC Network) when it takes on Florida in Gainesville, Florida.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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