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No. 22 Bulldogs set for Mettenberger, No. 9 LSU

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No. 22 Bulldogs set for Mettenberger, No. 9 LSU

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Stopping No. 9 LSU becomes much more complicated now that the Tigers have shown they can throw the football.

Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) hopes to have it figured out when the Bulldogs play at LSU (7-2, 3-2) on Saturday.

LSU lost a 21-17 heartbreaker against No. 1 Alabama last weekend, but the Tigers revealed a much more balanced offense in the process.

Junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger completed 24 of 35 passes for 298 yards and a touchdown in the best performance of his career. The Tigers rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit and nearly shocked the defending national champions.

At times, Alabama's defense looked stunned that LSU could suddenly throw. Even Tiger fans in Death Valley seemed surprised.

Mettenberger - who has taken plenty of heat this season for LSU's mediocre passing offense - was one of the few who always believed.

``It's just taken awhile for us to get to that level, I guess,'' Mettenberger said. ``When it came down to it, we just came out there and executed the best we have all year. All 11 guys more times than not were doing the right thing every time. That's something that we should have had all year.''

Mettenberger's improvement makes LSU's offense much more unpredictable.

While the Tigers have been among the nation's elite for the past several seasons, the book on how to stop their offense wasn't complicated. If LSU couldn't run, it couldn't score.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said that's not the case anymore.

``I didn't see them change a whole lot. I just saw them execute a lot better,'' Mullen said. Mettenberger ``got hot, he was accurate and they were making a lot of plays and that led to the night he had.''

Mississippi State's secondary - which is led by seniors Johnthan Banks, Corey Broomfield and Darius Slay - has been one of the best in the SEC over the past couple seasons. But they've been exposed the past few weeks, giving up big gains in losses to both Alabama and Texas A&M.

LSU is the third straight top 15 team the Bulldogs have faced in three weeks.

Mississippi State linebacker Cameron Lawrence said the defense must respect Mettenberger's ability to throw - especially after the Alabama performance - but he doesn't expect LSU to get away from its power running game that's proven so successful over the past few seasons.

The Tigers average more than 200 yards on the ground and five backs have at least 250 rushing yards this season.

``LSU is going to put a lot of guys in the box,'' Lawrence said. ``They've got a big, bruiser fullback. Me personally, I like that kind of game. Smash mouth and downhill running.''

But there's little question that LSU's ability to throw makes them an entirely different team.

The Tigers have several gifted receivers like Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr., but haven't always been able to use them. Landry leads the Tigers with 31 receptions while Beckham, Jr. is the big play threat. He's averaging 16.4 yards per catch.

``From here on out we want to put our foot down and make a statement against the rest of these teams and show that we can move the ball on the ground and through the air,'' Landry said.

Mettenberger said there's no reason that can't happen. Throwing for nearly 300 yards against the nation's top-ranked team means the Tigers should be able to do it against anyone.

``It's amazing when everybody does the right job,'' Mettenberger said. ``You really get a rhythm going, and it's contagious. Everybody on the offense starts feeling it. And when things start clicking and rolling, it's tough to stop any offense.''

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AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in Baton Rouge, La., contributed to this story.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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How one half of assertive basketball may turn around the Wizards' season

How one half of assertive basketball may turn around the Wizards' season

The fat lady wasn’t warming up to sing an operatic number, not with 66 games left in the regular season. Then the flailing Washington Wizards, coming off consecutive double-digit losses, came out flat yet again. They trailed the Los Angeles Clippers by 19 points at halftime some 36 hours after the general public heard about their private quarrels and following weeks of basketball nightmares. 

So, she might have at least begun some mental prep for an upcoming performance. Then came the comeback within the comeback. The Wizards rallied for a 125-118 win when all the world was ready to say sayonara. 

Did Washington indeed save its season by outscoring Los Angeles 71-45 in the second half?

Answering 'yes' presumes all is right with the gang that has struggled to defend throughout the season and possibly has chemistry issues even a family therapist couldn’t fix with thrice-weekly sessions. 

The day began with coach Scott Brooks and the team’s stars addressing leaks of intense arguments among players and a scolding by All-Star John Wall directed to the head coach. There was no spark initially, just a dismal first half that saw them down 24 points and 73-54 at halftime.

The first half served as a season-long microcosm. It’s why rumors of breaking up the team seemed plausible. 

Over the remaining 24 minutes, the Wizards finally woke up. They flew around the court defensively and passed to the open man. The stars played like a team wanting to play each other, willing to do whatever necessary for a win.

John Wall finished with 30 points. Bradley Beal scored 27. Otto Porter grabbed 14 rebounds to go with 11 points. Six players scored in double figures. Everybody ate. 

“That’s how we need to play,” Bradley Beal told NBC Sports Washington.

“Not going to say everything is fixed because we were still down [24 points], still have a lot of work to do. Got a lot of to change and get better. Our effort was there in the second half. That’s the type of intensity we have to have for the full 48.”

Numerous moments and performances stood out in the second half beyond the main players. Tomas Satoransky’s hustle helped begin the turnaround. Thomas Bryant, who started with Dwight Howard sidelined, provided interior energy. Jeff Green dropped 20 points. Markieff Morris, coming off the bench for the first time since Feb. 29, 2016, showed more than in recent games.

One play deep in the fourth quarter showed the difference between 16 games of defensive slumber and Tuesday’s resolve. 

The clock ticked under five minutes with Los Angeles leading 109-107. Clippers forward Tobias Harris crushed the Wizards early and finished with 29 points. He had the ball near the left corner when Wall and Beal sprung an aggressive trap as the shot clock wound down. Morris hustled for support. The late arrival helped. Shot clock violation. The Wizards then took the lead with a Morris 3-pointer. They soon pulled away with an 11-2 run. Their main players showed the way.

“We have to,” Beal said to NBC Sports Washington. “When it’s coming from the main guys. John and I have to give more, more and more. That’s something we realize and tell each other that. That’s that only way we’re going to get out of it. We just have to give more.”

The Thanksgiving holiday provides a natural break.

Washington resumes game action Friday at Toronto. At 6-11, the Wizards have to do, but at least they can catch their breath after a surreal span. 

“It’s a whirlwind. It’s a whirlwind,” said Beal, who remained in the game after suffering a cut over his eye following a head-butt collision with Clippers guard Tyrone Wallace. “We embrace it. Everything is a challenge. It’s adversity. We’ve been in this situation before. We’ve been in this situation where everybody thinks we have an issue. I think we did a great job of ignoring it as best we could. Doing what we could to get a win. A  much-needed win at that.”

Clippers coach Doc Rivers monitors the Wizards because of his son, Austin, Beal’s primary backup. More film work came leading into the second meeting between the teams. Los Angeles hammered Washington 136-104 on Oct. 28. Things were only getting worse for the Wizards. Then came the second half.

“They just forgot about the stuff they’re going through and got back to playing basketball,” Doc Rivers said of the Wizards.

“I’ve always thought that’s what you have to do. Every guy out there on both teams, they played basketball all their lives. Then you get all the, what I call ‘stuff.’ The clutter starts affecting your game. Tonight you could see the clutter was killing them early. Then when they saw they had a chance to win, they started playing basketball again.”

Assume nothing but sunshine and swishes going forward if you must. Ideally, the Wizards do not. They have work remaining. In the second half against the Clippers, Wall, Beal, and crew rose up. In doing so, the fat lady took a seat.

We’ll see for how long.

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Markieff Morris unhappy with leaks coming out of Wizards' locker room

Markieff Morris unhappy with leaks coming out of Wizards' locker room

The Wizards had just completed a 24-point comeback against the L.A. Clippers, but something wasn't sitting right with power forward Markieff Morris.

When asked by a reporter if it was nice to get the win given their recent losing and the media controversy surrounding the team, Morris couldn't help but wonder who it was who leaked comments made by players behind closed doors at a practice last week.

There were very specific quotes cited by several media outlets and Morris wants to know where they came from. 

"It's f***ed up what's going on," he said.

"The comments that's coming from the locker room, that's f***ed up."

Morris went on to say that anonymous sources leaking information shouldn't "happen in sports." Many professional athletes see the locker room and team-only events like practice as sacred. Anyone who breaks that code is, in their eyes, a traitor.

If Morris knew who the information came from, it sounds like he would do something about it.

"I don't know who it is, so it's hard to address. But it's messed up," he said.

Which player or member of the organization spilled the beans could be a question for this team all season. It doesn't sound like Morris will forget that it happened.

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