Quinndary Weatherspoon has 52 points in his last two games combined. Despite a wrist injury that, for about one week, appeared to have ended his season, the sophomore is averaging 19.1 points per game as his Mississippi State basketball team finished non-conference play with a blowout victory over UMKC last night.
Last night, that is, in a game where Weatherspoon dropped 25 points in only 25 minutes, drilled five three-pointers and shot 60 percent from the floor.
Weatherspoon is scoring in bunches, and yet, after the game, it was a single assist by his star guard that head coach Ben Howland was most anxious to discuss.
“He had a bounce pass tonight to I.J. [Ready] in transition that was phenomenal,” Howland bragged. “That’s what I’m excited about.”
Early in the second half, a missed UMKC shot bounced perfectly off the backboard and into Weatherspoon’s possession. Ball in hand, he quickly turned and took a step toward midcourt to look for his next move. Senior point guard I.J. Ready had already sprinted out ahead of the transition, being guarded one-on-one as he neared the opposing three-point line. When Ready saw that Weatherspoon was coming, he started to curl out toward the sideline in an attempt to clear the area for yet another Weatherspoon basket.
Instead, Weatherspoon made another call.
“He said, ‘Nooooo!’” Ready remembered his teammate yelling.
So Ready cut back in toward the basket and Weatherspoon, from halfcourt, launched a one-handed pass through the tiniest of windows. Guarding Ready and with his back to Weatherspoon, the defender didn’t even see the ball sail into the small area of open space between his outstretched arm and size-something shoe, bouncing with perfect spin in the paint to curl right into Ready’s hands, where the steady senior dropped it into the basket for two points and one of Weatherspoon’s four assists on the night.
“That’s probably the best pass I’ve seen him make in a while,” Ready said.
The pass was so good, in fact, and the momentum it fostered was so strong, it forced UMKC to call a timeout to try and calm the team.
Said Howland, “That pass had to be perfect to get right through the only way it could get through. It was phenomenal and it gave us a great jolt.”
And that pass, more than the 25 points or five three-pointers, it what has Howland so excited about Weatherspoon. That, and his seven rebounds, his four assists and, particularly, his strong defense. Injured wrist and all, Weatherspoon is still the best defender on the team.
Weatherspoon is, fairly literally, doing it all, much to the betterment of his team. His defense doesn’t just help create opportunities for his own scoring, but it advances the game for the entire MSU roster.
“He just brings energy on defense,” sophomore Xavian Stapleton said. “We get stops, we score.”
That easy, apparently. And lately, it’s sort of looked that easy. The Bulldogs are 6-1 since Thanksgiving break ended, and they’ve won five games in the month of December, despite a 10-day break for final exams. They’ve won their last three games by an average of 24 points.
Howland doesn’t think they’re peaking – he still thinks they have a long way to go – but he can see clear improvement as MSU finishes the first half of the season.
It’s not just Weatherspoon either, though he’s certainly been great. Stapleton returning from injury, even in limited minutes, has been a spark for the team with his defense, rebounding and energy. Freshman point guard Lamar Peters has responded to suspension with previously unseen gusto. Freshman guard Tyson Carter quietly, as is his nature, is hitting deep threes and racking up steals. Sophomore forward Aric Holman is dominating the paint, while freshman forward Schnider Herard is figuring out just how to use his big frame to his advantage.
As individuals continue to improve, so has the team, now sitting at 9-3 and anticipating the start of SEC play.
“It’s a great vibe,” Ready said. “We set those expectations when the young guys got here. We weren’t settling for less. We really wanted to be undefeated going into conference. That’s how we looked at it. But being in this position, I think it’s the best start since I’ve been here.”
It certainly appears to be that, and Ready, like most, gives a great deal of the credit to Weatherspoon. The jump the Mississippi native has made from freshman to sophomore year is hard to miss, as Ready, Stapleton and Howland each said this season is the best he’s ever been. He’s confident, he’s in control, and he refuses to accept any credit or praise.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t many willing to heap it on him anyway.
“He’s a heck of an offensive talent,” UMKC head coach Kareem Richardson said after Thursday’s game. “He plays at such a really calm pace. He doesn’t get sped up, doesn’t get frustrated much and kind of has that old-hand, calm pace about his game.”
Said Howland, “He creates a lot with his athleticism. He’s really, really playing well. He’s great to coach. He’s phenomenal in terms of being coachable. It’s nice having your best player also be maybe your most coachable player.
“I would think that everybody’s gearing their defense toward him,” he continued. “And again, it’s not about the points he scores. It’s about him leading us to the big ‘W,’ and you do it in a lot of different ways. You do it No. 1 with your defense and your rebounding, then he does it tonight with his passing. For him to be the best he can be, it’s an area he has to continue to grow in, making plays for others.”
Making plays for others, in addition to making plays for himself, has helped MSU to its most promising start in years. Weatherspoon gets the headlines, and deservedly so, for his performances. But his success is just an indicator of the success the entire team is having.
“We’re getting better,” Howland said. “We’re improving, and that’s exciting. That’s what you want as a coach.”