Mississippi State's Howland set for boisterous crowd against Big Ten's Minnesota

·3 min read

Dec. 4—STARKVILLE — The Lamars and Montanas of college basketball have come through Humphrey Coliseum this season, but Sunday marks the biggest home game thus far for Mississippi State men's basketball.

Minnesota (6-0) will be the first Big Ten team coming to The Hump since Nebraska lost to MSU in the 2018 NIT.

Mississippi State is averaging a generous attendance of 6,309 per game ahead of Sunday's matchup — Minnesota's first true road game this season

But as football season winds down and teams like Minnesota come on the schedule ahead of SEC play, Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland anticipates Humphrey Coliseum to provide a difficult road environment.

"It makes a huge difference for our team and our players when you have a boisterous crowd that's supporting the team and rooting them on," Howland said.

To add to any hype around the game, Sunday will be MSU's first nationally-televised game this season (ESPNU).

Minnesota is in its first season with Ben Johnson at the helm after letting go of Richard Pitino following a 14-15 season last year.

Minnesota's lone Power Five matchup came Tuesday in a 54-53 win at Pittsburgh as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

The Golden Gophers are led by guard Payton Willis (16) and forward Jamison Battle (17) who combine for 33 points per game this season.

"When he gets the ball, he looks to make things happen offensively. He makes and takes some tough shots. Very, very skilled," Howland said of Battle.

"We really liked him when he was at Vandy and tried to recruit him when he decided he was leaving there," Howland added on Willis. "He's playing the point exclusively now and really looks good at it."

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Minnesota is an experienced group with Battle — a sophomore — being the lone starter who isn't a senior or graduate student.

With this experience, Howland says Minnesota is a team which understands the importance of tempo while pushing the pace effectively.

Mississippi State tries to play up-tempo as well, but struggled to do so at moments in its win Thursday against Lamar.

Howland considers the point guard, in this case Iverson Molinar, to be the most important player on a team — comparing the position to a quarterback in football.

But while Molinar is the key to pushing the offense, transfer forward D.J. Jeffries has played a crucial role with his passing ability.

"He's a good decision maker," Howland said of Jeffries.

Mississippi State guard Rocket Watts had his best performance of the season against Lamar with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

Coming off an offseason hip procedure, Watts had struggled to find his rhythm in the four prior games.

But what he adds to Sunday's matchup is more than just with his on-court production.

Few people know Minnesota's roster as well as Watts who is a transfer from Michigan State.

Watts scored 14 points in three games against Minnesota across his two years at Michigan State.

STEFAN KRAJISNIK is the Mississippi State athletics reporter for the Daily Journal. Contact him at stefan.krajisnik@djournal.com.

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