State swamps USM 86-44 with 35-0 run

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Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Southern Miss forward Tim Rowe (12) shoots a basket over Mississippi State guard Xavian Stapleton (3).

With five minutes, 31 seconds remaining to play Monday night at Mississippi Coliseum, Southern Miss substitute guard D’Angelo Richardson swished a long, straight-away 3-point basket.

Southern Miss fans, the few remaining of the few more who came, cheered wildly. Heck, some good-natured Mississippi State fans may have joined in, too.

Richardson’s basket ended a 35-0 Mississippi State run. That’s right: 35 straight points. The score had been a fairly competitive 41-29 with 18 minutes to play to play. Richardson’s basket made it 76-32.

You can watch basketball for a long, long time and never see a run like that. USM went scoreless for more than 12 minutes, missing 19 straight shots.

And so Mississippi State trounced Southern Miss 86-44 in the first of four basketball games the two schools have contracted to play at Mississippi Coliseum in four straight Decembers.

A lot will have to change before 2019 for the Golden Eagles to win even one of the four – indeed, for USM even to be competitive.

Melanie Thortis

Rick Cleveland

Ben Howland’s State Bulldogs, the least experienced of all 351 Division I teams, showed a world of potential in throwing down 3-point shots from all angles, all over the floor.

Doc Sadler’s beleaguered Eagles, ravaged by NCAA probation and scholarship limits, played hard but it seemed they often were shooting at a moving target, one that had a lid on it. The same shots the Bulldogs were swishing on one end of the floor, the Eagles were bricking off the basket or the backboard – or, missing everything. These statistics tell you most of what you need to know: State hit 17 of 29 3-point shots; USM missed 21 of 26. To borrow from the great Jimmy Breslin, the Eagles were the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Mississippi State head basketball coach Ben Howland shouts instructions to his team.

The crowd of 4,031, largely dressed in some version of maroon, seemed to enjoy every minute of it. They stayed for garbage time – and there was a lot of that this night.

Just read down the Southern Miss shooting chart (names are charitably omitted): 1 for 8, 1 for 5, 1 for 8, 0 for 7, 1 for 5 and 1 for 13. Ouch!

Meanwhile, State’s super-smooth Q Weatherspoon made all four of his 3 pointers, the ball settling softly through the nets each time he launched one. He led the Bulldogs with 16 points, playing only 26 minutes.

Flora native Xavian Stapleton, playing basketball for the first time in 18 months after two knee surgeries, even got into the act. He made both his 3-pointers, including the first one that banked in.

Someone asked him if he called “Board” on that one.

“No, but I thanked the man up above,” Stapleton said, grinning.

Howland was pleased to have Stapleton back, he said, as much for his experience as his considerable ability. At MSU, being a sophomore makes you an elder statesmen.

“He’s played at this level before,” Howland said. “He knows what it takes. We need that.”

Of the five Bulldogs who scored seven or more points, three were freshmen, two sophomores.

Afterward, Howland talked about how he thought the USM-State series, played in Jackson, is important for Mississippi basketball.

“We play Ole Miss twice a year, and now we’ll play Southern Miss once a year,” Howland said. “Playing here is important to our kids. It’s the state capital. Our Mississippi kids all have fond memories of playing in this place in the state tournament. We need to play a game here every year.”

And I know what you’re thinking: Easy for Howland to say, after a 42-point win.

“You can see Doc is picking up the remnants of what he had to take over with the scholarship limitations,” Howland said. “All of the things he’s had to deal with are incredibly tough. I have unbelievable respect for him as a coach and I know they are really going to get this thing going once they get the freedom to have all their scholarships.”

That seemed a long way off Monday night.

“The only thing I know to do is put your head down, grind, work and try to get better on the practice court,” Sadler said. “That’s what we’ve got to do.”

Things should get a little better for the Golden Eagles Tuesday, at least in terms of scenery. They fly to Hawaii for their next three games.

Rick Cleveland is Mississippi Today’s sports columnist. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.