STARKVILLE — There is a lot to remember from the loss that ended the Mississippi State men’s basketball team’s hopes of making the NCAA tournament.
There was the corner 3-pointer Xavian Stapleton had that could have changed the game. There also was the injury to Nick Weatherspoon that changed the game.
But the number one stands out.
MSU had only one assist in a three-point loss to Tennessee that denied it an opportunity for a victory against a ranked opponent.
On Wednesday night, Lamar Peters remedied MSU’s issue with a career-high 14 assists in a 66-59 victory against Nebraska in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) at Humphrey Coliseum.
The victory pushes MSU (23-11) into a second-round matchup against Baylor (19-14), which beat Wagner 80-59 on Tuesday, at 11 a.m. Sunday (ESPN) in Waco, Texas.
Aric Holman led MSU with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Abdul Ado added 15 points and nine rebounds, while Stapleton had 12 points.
But it was Peters, who didn’t score, who led the charge with a MSU postseason record for assists. He also had four rebounds. Peters’ 14 assists were two shy of MSU’s all-time record and four shy of the NIT record
“He could’ve had 18 assists tonight. We missed some open looks,” MSU coach Ben Howland said.
Peters had eight assists in the first quarter as MSU built a seven-point lead. He did it by being patient against a smaller opponent, which allowed the Bulldogs to expose the Cornhuskers’ lack of length late in the shot clock. MSU had zero fast-break points in the quarter but it scored 16 points in the paint.
Ado had six of his points in the first quarter points. He had scored six or fewer points in five games leading up to Wednesday. Howland praised Peters for getting Ado the ball in perfect situations.
“Even though he missed a couple, he took more left-handed hook shots tonight than he’s taken all year, and you have no idea how happy that makes us,” Howland said. “He has a great left, but he doesn’t want to use it in the games, and he’s finally doing it.”
Despite the production of Holman, Ado, and Stapleton, Nebraska coach Tim Miles said Peters was the primary weapon, even though he missed all three or his shots.
“We were trying to play everything in, but what we couldn’t do was get the ball out of his hands, so he was able to find people late,” said Miles, whose team ended its season at 22-11. “He made Ado score. He probably took his five layups and did the heavy work for him. I thought about going under his ball screen, thought about trapping him, but we didn’t want to get all extended.
“He’s really a dynamic player, and as his shot improves, he’s really going to be a special player.”
MSU outrebounded Nebraska 47-30. It had 16 offensive rebounds that it cashed in for 12 second-chance points. That advantage helped MSU overcome six turnovers in the fourth quarter that limited the Bulldogs to seven fourth-quarter field goal attempts. Nebraska had 20 for Nebraska. The teams played four quarter rather than two halves under experimental rules being used in the NIT.
“I thought we weren’t warm to the fight early, and then when we got in foul trouble with (Isaiah) Roby and (Isaac) Copeland in there, we were too careful,” Miles said.
MSU also dominated the interior and gave Nebraska little opportunity with its extra shots. The Cornhuskers missed 11 of their last 15 shots, a fact Miles credited to MSU’s interior defense.
“Coach Howland’s team did an outstanding job of having us change shots because we missed way too many makeable inside shots,” Miles said.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson