No. 17 Mississippi State set for challenge from Wofford
The last time someone said they were looking forward to going to the dentist probably was the first time someone ever said that.
And that's how Mississippi State coach Ben Howland feels as his No. 17-ranked Bulldogs prepare to play host on Wednesday night to Wofford.
"It will be like a root canal," he told the (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion Ledger.
While the Bulldogs have been under the radar while building a 9-1 record, the Terriers haven't backed down from anyone. They enter with a 9-3 record that includes losses to North Carolina, Oklahoma and Kansas.
"Bottom line is, (playing Wofford is) preparing us for what's the most important, which is the SEC," Howland said. "Every night, the SEC is going to be a monster. There are no breaks. Every game is difficult."
For Wofford coach Mike Young, playing Mississippi State won't be a walk in the park, either.
"Mississippi State is a top-25 team, they are coached by a man (Howland) that has won a lot of games and who has been to Final Fours, so we need to go down there and play well to give ourselves a chance to win," Young said.
The Terriers like to run and shoot the 3 where they fire up more than 28 per game. Wofford averages 81.0 points per game and owns one of the best scoring margins (20.9 points) in the country.
Senior guard Fletcher Magee (17.3 points) made two free throws on Saturday to become Wofford's Division I career points leader, passing Noah Dahlman.
"Fletcher has been awesome," Young said after Magee passed the previous mark. "As I've said a thousand times, I'm fortunate enough to coach him, but the best part about tonight is that we've still got a lot of games ahead of us with him, and it was a great team win tonight."
In addition to passing Dahlman, Magee's two 3-pointers moved him into second place all time in the Southern Conference with 397 3-pointers, passing College of Charleston's Andrew Goudelock. Standing ahead is Davidson and current Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who holds the record at 414.
"Andrew Goudelock was a great player, so that's some great company for Fletcher," Young said of Magee, who shoots better than 36 percent from beyond the arc. "He's just a scorer. He's gotten bigger and stronger over the years and he can do so many things offensively, he makes it a lot of fun to coach."
And a headache to coach against.
"These guys are a problem," Howland said.
But the Bulldogs didn't rise to No. 17 by accident. A veteran team, Mississippi State has been winning with defense. In the last outing, a win over Cincinnati, the Bulldogs allowed the Bearcats to shoot just 37.3 percent from the field -- 10 percent below their average.
"Everything starts with our defense," Howland told the Starkville Daily News. "Nothing changes. What you control most is your intensity and your preparation for people defensively, then when you have it going at the other end, you really have a chance to be good. Night in and night out, defense always gives you a chance to win."
Making the Bulldogs even more dangerous is their 3-point shooting. During their past three games, they have made 45 of 84 from long range.
Quinndary Weatherspoon (16.5 points) leads four players who score in double figures and a fifth averages 9.9 points.
Howland praised his squad for doing the dirty work that it takes to be a champion.
"We were scrappy," Howland said. "There was one play where everyone was diving on the floor for the ball. There were so many great plays of hustle and grit and fight and toughness. That's what it takes to be good."
Updated December 18, 2018