Mississippi State off to a slow start even with Gordon's all-around talent
If you're looking for a prototype of Jamont Gordon, save yourself the trouble.
There's not one, at least not in college basketball.
The Mississippi State junior point guard is a 6-foot-4, 230-pound block of granite strong enough to muscle his way into the paint for points, skilled enough to post up defenders and score over them, and versatile enough to rake off the defensive rebound, motor the length of the court and finish at the other end.
He's not a natural point guard and is still prone to turnovers, but his ability to drive and find open teammates is getting better all the time.
And his athleticism? Well, that's off the charts. Ask anybody who used to watch him at Glencliff High School in Nashville, Tenn., when he was known to slice through the lane, bounce the ball off the backboard to himself and then go up and slam it back through with the ferocity of an NFL linebacker.
"I haven't met anybody quite like Jamont in college, high school, AAU, anywhere," Mississippi State teammate Barry Stewart said. "There really isn't anybody else just like him. He's so strong and so difficult to guard. He can get you going one way, bounces back and elevates for his shot.
"Then another time, he'll go by you and dunk on you. There's not a lot he can't do."
The one thing Gordon wishes he could do is snap Mississippi State out of its current funk. The Bulldogs (5-5) have mastered the art of frittering away games in the final minutes, and to this point, get the early-season award for the team that's done the least with the most.
"I think we've kind of put ourselves in a hole a little bit, losing so many close games," Gordon said. "I don't know. We're just not good at closing teams out. We play hard and pretty well during the game. Just at the end, it ain't there."
Mississippi State was one of the preseason favorites, along with Arkansas, in the SEC's Western Division. Gordon and senior forward Charles Rhodes are both All-SEC performers, while guards Ben Hansbrough and Stewart earned All-SEC freshman honors a season ago.
But heading into Wednesday's game at Loyola Marymount, the Bulldogs are searching for answers after blowing late leads last week against South Alabama and Miami in the kind of stinging losses that tend to linger.
"We've just got to be tougher," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "That's what it gets down to, having the toughness to make the plays when you've got to in the final minutes of games. It's been the same story for us all year."
The Bulldogs aren't especially deep and have four freshmen or sophomores among their top seven players. Gordon said it's on him to be more of a steadying influence, and he said nobody's panicking.
Historically, Stansbury's teams have gotten better and played some of their best basketball in February and March. But if the Bulldogs don't start winning some games now, there might not be much of a March for this team.
"I don't think we're nearly as good as we're going to be at the end of the season," Gordon said. "We've got some new guys starting that didn't start last year, and they're still learning their role. We're getting better. Our defense and rebounding are there. Once we get our offense together and play smarter late in games, we're going to be a good team.
"We just can't wait much longer to make our move."
Gordon was the only Division I player in the country last season to average more than 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game. This season, he's the lone SEC player to rank in the top 12 in the conference in points (17.2), rebounds (7.0) and assists (4.0).
He has 11 career double-doubles and is only the second Mississippi State player in history (Lawrence Roberts being the other) to record a triple-double.
What he's not is a household name.
"I really think I'm hidden down here in little Starkville at Mississippi State, but that's OK," said the quiet lefty. "If I got a little more TV time, people would know a lot about me. I'd be one of those known players. But I'm definitely happy to be here. I'm getting to play the way I want to play. My coaches are great and let me play my game."
Gordon, who gave up football in the seventh grade to concentrate solely on basketball, worked overtime during the offseason to expand his game, specifically his perimeter jumper. Teams were quick to play off him last season and dared him to shoot. Gordon got 300 to 400 shots a day this summer when he was back home in Nashville, and he also attended John Lucas' camp in Houston.
The arc on Gordon's jump shot looks better, but he's still just shooting 28.8 percent (15-for-52) from 3-point range.
"I feel better about my jumper, but that's never going to be the main part of my game," Gordon said. "When I'm hitting my midrange jumper, finding mismatches and getting the ball to my teammates, that's when I'm at my best."
With the Bulldogs struggling to find their identity, Stansbury thinks Gordon has been guilty at times of trying to do too much this season. Through 10 games, he has as many turnovers (40) as he does assists (40).
"You've got to adjust to what the defense is doing," Stansbury said. "You can't make difficult plays every time. You've got to make some easy plays."
Gordon flirted with turning pro last season. He entered his name into the NBA draft, but he changed his mind and decided to return to school. He said his third season of college ball will likely be his last.
"I'm going to wait until the end of the season to see what happens, but I think this will probably be it," Gordon said. "I want to go out the right way. We've got as good a chance as anybody to be in the hunt with the top teams in this league. We've just got to play like it.
"We'll get there, and I've got to help us get there. Whatever role it is they need me to play, I'll play."
Ultimately, if the Bulldogs are going to weather their poor start and make an NCAA Tournament run, Gordon's role may well sprout into a couple of different roles.
"Losing so many early puts a little more pressure on us," Gordon said. "We've been right there with every team we've played. We've just got to close games out.
"That starts with your veterans, with your best players. It starts with me."
Chris Low is a college football and basketball writer for ESPN.com.
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