NASHVILLE, Tenn. – This isn’t the same Mississippi State team Georgia faced on Feb. 13.
Georgia won that game 66-57, although the final score made it seem the game was closer than it was. A few late buckets from Mississippi State helped make the beating seem far less than what Georgia actually put forth on the court.
But since that loss to Georgia (17-12, 10-8 SEC), Mississippi State (14-16, 7-11) has gone on to win four of its final six regular-season games. That includes wins over Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Alabama. Mississippi State also narrowly lost to Texas A&M 68-66.
Georgia knows not to look at Mississippi State’s lowly 11th seed because it’s clear a change has occurred since the last time the two teams played.
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"Their record shows they’ve been playing better," junior guard J.J. Frazier said. "They’re playing better as a team. They’re moving the ball and playing hard."
In evaluating Mississippi State’s recent games, Georgia head coach Mark Fox noticed it’s shooting the ball a lot than the 30.1 percent it posted against the Bulldogs. In fact, Mississippi State has shot the ball 45 percent or better in each of its past six games.
In addition, Mississippi State freshman guard Quindarry Weatherspoon has hit 17 of his past 31 3-pointers in this six-game stretch, which followed a 3-of-7 3-point shooting performance against Georgia.
"They’ve got multiple guys shooting the 3 well so they can spread you all over the floor with the 3-point shot," Fox said. "(Senior forward Gavin) Ware is finishing plays and his percentages have increased. Offensively, they’re a more efficient team. They’re playing well at both ends. They just seem more confident on offense."
It’s taken some time for Mississippi State to gel in head coach Ben Howland’s first season in Starkville. But it would appear the program is peaking at the right time.
Georgia, the SEC Tournament’s No. 6 seed, can’t afford to look ahead to a potential quarterfinals matchup against South Carolina considering the improved play Mississippi State has put forth over the past month.
"I think they’re playing as good as anyone in the league, to be honest with you," Fox said. "They’re a team that had to learn a new system, a new style. Obviously it takes time to do that. They’ve learned it, they’ve had success with it. They’ve got confidence in it. That’s given them momentum also. They’re playing very well and are a completely different team than the one we played a couple of weeks ago."