Bulldogs Bash Braves On Boards For 60-42 Win

Gavin Ware

He's had four productive games in a rotation role. So moving Gavin Ware onto the tipoff team seemed a good Mississippi State move…not that the true freshman was gushing about his first college start. "It really didn't matter if I did start or come off the bench," Ware said. "I still was going to continue to get playing time."

True, but getting it immediately allowed Ware to set a tone for the whole Bulldog team against Alcorn State. He did with efficient shooting and aggressive rebounding. Really aggressive rebounding as Ware's 12 boards and seven points paced Mississippi State to a 60-42 victory at Humphrey Coliseum. State snapped a three-loss streak and improved to 2-4, while the SWAC member Braves left 2-5.

They did so largely because the Bulldogs crushed their guests 50 to 20 on the glass. Both of them as State had 16 offensive boards, or more than Alcorn State's dozen defensive caroms which was Ware's own total.

"It played a big part," Ware said. "We mostly talked about rebounding the ball. I wanted to work on it in practice and carry it over into the game." Ware had been averaging 6.8 boards as senior center Wendell Lewis' alternate. Lewis did play the 14 minutes Ware did not with four rebounds and no points, as he didn't attempt a shot.

Backcourt teammates Fred Thomas and Craig Sword picked up that slack anyway with twenty shots between them and nine makes. These fellow frosh also worked their way to the foul line 16 combined times as each finished with 14 points.

"It was my best game since I've been here," said Sword, who'd come in shooting just 27% through the first four games. Sword was 4-of-8 this time around with a couple of assists and five steals. "Coach told me to play calm and the game would come to me." Forward Rocquez Johnson was right behind with 13 points and seven rebounds.

Thomas did his damage in a relief role for a change, as Tyson Cunningham got his first college start and stuck an early trey.

Coach Rick Ray was justly proud of how his home team hit the boards after being out-rebounded consistently during their three-game trip to Maui. But the first-year coach was more pleased with another aspect Tuesday night.

"There were a lot of opportunities to get rebounds because of what we did defensively," Ray said, referring to the 28% Alcorn State shooting and ten Bulldog steals. "When you hold a team that low a field goal percentage you're going to have the opportunity to go get rebounds."

Braves Coach Luther Riley saw the same game as Ray. "Rebounds. That's the answer," said Riley. "I learned we're not as tough as we should be. Rebounding is nothing but toughness and positioning. I think Gavin and Rocquez did a heck of a job pushing us around and getting rebounds." Guard Anthony Evans led ASU with 12 points, nine on treys, while LeAntwan Luckett added 11 points. No Brave had more than five rebounds.

A layup off the opening tip staked Alcorn State to their only lead as the Bulldogs responded with 13 unanswered points, the first by Johnson on free throws. Sword and Ware split the next eight points and a Johnson putback produced the first double-digit lead at 14:32. The domination didn't stop with frequent State subbing until a three-point play by Sword gave State a 24-9 bulge.

The Braves didn't reach double-digit points until 7:02 when Anthony Evans hit a three. Sword answered in-kind at the other end. It was 37-21 by intermission, and State's lead peaked at 58-32 on freebies by forward Colin Borchert as he returned from a three-game suspension.

The last seven minutes, which produced only two Bulldog points, took some edge off Ray's enjoyment. Not so much the lack of scoring but lax attention to other details down the stretch. And two columns in the stat sheet leaped out at the coach.

"We had six assists and 21 turnovers," Ray said. "We've got to get that fixed if we're going to be good down the road." Or on the road for that matter, where Mississippi State is headed this weekend for the SEC/Big East Challenge. They play Providence at 11:00 am (central) Saturday.

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