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Stapleton, MSU play at Florida

 

Misissippi State junior Xavian Stapleton (3) will help lead the Bulldogs against Florida tonight.

Misissippi State junior Xavian Stapleton (3) will help lead the Bulldogs against Florida tonight. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Brett Hudson

 

 

STARKVILLE -- Back in October, everything was lining up for Xavian Stapleton. His junior season was supposed to be a big one; it still could be, with 16 games left in the regular season, but if it comes, it will take on a different form. 

 

The tumultuous 2017-18 season that has been for Stapleton will continue when MSU goes to Florida 6 p.m. Wednesday (SEC Network). The game comes after another tripping point: his arrest Monday for disturbing the peace. 

 

Stapleton turned himself in to the Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Department and was released on $500 bond. 

 

MSU coach Ben Howland said Stapleton's status with the program did not change after the arrest and that he plans on Stapleton playing against the Gators. 

 

"I don't have any comment other than to say we're gathering information on the situation that he was involved with," Howland said. 

 

Stapleton's presence in Gainesville is good news for a team that has thrown him into an important role -- even if it wasn't the one originally planned for him. 

 

When junior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon labeled Stapleton as a breakout player in the making, projected versatility was certainly a big part of it. His 6-foot-6, 210-pound frame may be best suited for small forward, but his ability to defend and stretch opposing defenses as a power forward made him a pivotal weapon. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy admitted after beating MSU (13-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) Saturday that putting Stapleton at power forward forced Ole Miss into a lineup it's never used before. 

 

Recently, as MSU looks for help for its two frontcourt starters, Aric Holman and Abdul Ado, Stapleton has been at power forward almost exclusively. It's possible the new role is a reaction to Schnider Herard, whose minutes were reduced throughout the season until his recent departure from the team with intent to transfer. 

 

"We don't see it that way. There's always going to be a day or a game where someone's going to be hurt or someone's not going to be able to do something, it's just next man up," MSU forward Aric Holman said. "(Stapleton) is the next man up and he's handled his job." 

 

Taking on the team's need may not have been an issue for Stapleton if he were not robbed of another preseason reason for optimism. Stapleton said this was the first season in three years that he started fully healthy since he battled other injuries before his most recent knee issue. Howland saw an improved version of Stapleton practicing without a knee brace for the first time. 

 

Then he lasted a mere five minutes in MSU's season opener. Another knee issue, later revealed to not be serious, still cost him three games. It then took him another six games to play 20 or more minutes in back-to-back games. 

 

The confident player that Howland thought, "is going to create a lot of havoc for defenses," has yet to deliver on that hope, as he averages 6.5 points and 2.7 rebounds per game while shooting 28.6 percent from 3-point range. 

 

Stapleton said in the preseason this is, "the year you really owe it to people to change things, to grow as a player." With MSU projected to lose its next two games to Florida (11-4, 3-0 SEC) and Auburn according to Ken Pomeroy's advanced numbers, Stapleton's role taking clear form and knee issues seemingly behind him, once again, the time is here for him. 

 

Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson

 

 

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