March 13, 2018 11:25:58 AM
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State men's basketball team had to adapt after losing the services of freshman guard Nick Weatherspoon at the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Play had just started in the second half when Weatherspoon was a hurt on a collision at the basket.
A somber MSU squad battled after Weatherspoon was carted off before falling to Tennessee 62-59 in the quarterfinals of the tournament.
Now back home, the Bulldogs are aware they could be without the All-Freshman performer for the rest of the season, so a new plan is in place for the National Invitation Tournament.
MSU (22-11) will put that plan into action when it plays host to Nebraska (22-10) in the opening round of the NIT at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Humphrey Coliseum (ESPN2).
"We are preparing to play without Nick and may be for the tournament," MSU coach Ben Howland said. "We are not shutting him down, so to speak, because hopefully, if we were able to make it to New York, he might be able to come back and help us some."
Nick Weatherspoon is second on the team in scoring at 11.1 points per game. His brother, Quinndary Weatherspoon leads the Bulldogs at 14.8 ppg.
Howland said the younger Weatherspoon's absence will be felt the most on the defensive end.
"He's just a physical, hard-nosed defender that plays with an edge," Howland said. "The biggest challenge you have with players right out of high school is on the defensive end. He bought into our defensive philosophy and was doing a great job with some of the best players in the league."
Nick Weatherspoon spent Friday night in a St. Louis-area hospital. All tests came back clean. Howland said Weatherspoon's neck area was fine and his hip area "has a bone contusion with some deep swelling."
The sequence was difficult to watch on television and was intensified when play wasn't stopped with Weatherspoon still on the floor. A follow-up play resulted in a Tennessee player colliding with the younger Weatherspoon and Quinndary Weatherspoon just missing his brother after a dunk attempt.
Throughout social media Friday night, prayers were directed at Weatherspoon. The university reported the good medical news Saturday. Nick Weatherspoon has followed up with two videos thanking the well-wishers from his personal Twiitter account.
Howland said Xavian Stapleton and KeyShawn Feazell will pick up a majority of the minutes played by Weatherspoon. E.J. Datcher didn't appear in either SEC tournament game, which Howland called a "coach's decision."
Howland hopes the Bulldogs can make a deep run in the NIT, where three wins are needed to play in Madison Square Garden and five wins are needed to take the title.
MSU last advanced to Madison Square Garden during the 2007 NIT.
"For a team with no seniors, this is an invaluable experience," Howland said. "We can continue to play postseason basketball, and there is nothing like that. Games in March are different. This will be a good experience for our team."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter