STARKVILLE — The ups and downs of a long men’s college basketball season has impacted every Mississippi State Bulldog along the way — all of them except Aric Holman. While junior Quinndary Weatherspoon has spent time at every backcourt position, sophomore guard Lamar Peters has spent equal time in and out of the starting lineup while freshman Nick Weatherspoon has been streaky from the 3-point line, yet Holman constantly gives MSU production in 20 or minutes almost every time out.
That is in jeopardy for the first time all season with MSU one game away from the current tie for third in the Southeastern Conference.
Holman’s hyperextended knee suffered in the win over Ole Miss could leave MSU (19-8, 7-7 SEC) without the junior forward as it travels to Texas A&M (17-10, 6-8 SEC) 6 p.m. Tuesday. If that’s ultimately the case, it would leave MSU without the man ranked 10th in the conference in rebounding (6.6 per game) and ninth in blocked shots (1.4 per game). After a MRI on his knee didn’t find damage, Holman and MSU coach Ben Howland are holding onto optimism that he can play; Howland knows MSU needs him.
“He’s improved in most every way. He’s a better offensive threat, a better passer,” Howland said.
Howland said the plan for Monday was to have Holman shoot and run on the Alter G, a treadmill that diminishes the effect of gravity, thus allows athletes to run while not putting the force of their entire bodyweight on their legs as they do so. Holman said he also did some squats and resistance band work Monday and felt OK doing it. All that’s left to be seen is how Holman feels in the morning.
Holman said the injury left some fluid in his knee and all he needs to do is reach the point where he can tolerate the pain to play in a game, as he was able to tolerate the pain to work out on Monday.
“It’s still a little sore, but it’s where I could tolerate it, so I could fight through it,” Holman said.
If Holman’s minutes are limited or he cannot play at all, MSU has two options.
The first is to get even more out of Xavian Stapleton. Stapleton has been the most often used forward in Holman’s place recently to the tune of 20 or more minutes in three of the last four games and four of the last six. Stapleton has played some of his best basketball of the season in the last week, scoring 18 points in the loss to Vanderbilt and 10 against Ole Miss on combined 7-for-8 3-point shooting.
“I think he’s continued to, No. 1, when he plays well he’s not in foul trouble,” Howland said. “It’s about staying solid, not gambling and staying in the game. That’s helped him a lot and he’s done a good job of that.”
Stapleton does not give MSU the same things Holman gives it, given Stapleton has collected one rebound in his last two games combined and has not blocked a shot in the month of February. For a forward in the mold of Holman, MSU will have to turn to freshman KeyShawn Feazell, and that is Howland’s plan.
Playing time for Feazell has been few and far between: he has not played at all in five conference games and had three or fewer minutes in six more. That hasn’t stopped those around him from seeing growth.
“He’s really grown up,” Holman said. “As a freshman, like all freshmen, he makes mistakes, but he doesn’t put his head down. He’s willing to learn, he’s willing to ask questions. That’s the good thing about him.”
Howland added, “I think he’s solid (defensively). He does a good job, plays real hard, very physical, blocks out. He’ll give us something. He’s not the shot blocker Aric is, but especially in this game, it’s more about blocking out.”
Howland prioritizes that particularly against this Texas A&M team that boasts two of the conference’s top six offensive rebounders, Tyler Davis (3.5 offensive rebounds per game) and Robert Williams (2.6).
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson