Freshman guard Applewhite scored 14 points with 11 rebounds as Mississippi State knocked off the visiting Rattlers 78-65. The Bulldogs improved to 6-2, as Florida A&M left 2-8 after a seventh-straight road defeat.
Those cookies were a sweet benefit for work done well enough. State never trailed, and owned the first half as guard Craig Sword scored 15 points in just that period to help build a 42-27 lead. The second half wasn’t as efficient, in fact the Bulldogs were out-shot on percentage and gave up twice as many field goals as scored, 14 to 7.
What made the difference was something Coach Rick Ray had wanted his team working on: free throwing. “Man, we shot 100 free throws the other day,” Sword said. “And 50 before we played.” The results showed though. The Bulldogs went 20-of-25 at the north stripe in that last half and 33-of-45 for the game.
“We lived at the free throw line,” said Ray. “So that made up for our lack of scoring.”
Sword was 10-of-12 on the stripe, Applewhite 7-of-11. The Rattlers were an ideal opponent for them to exploit with the officials, too, said Applewhite. “Me and Chicken are great drivers so we used that to our advantage, to get to the free throw line where we know it’s easy money.”
Applewhite’s line of 3-of-4 shooting with a trey and all those rebounds looked easier than they were. The 6-5 guard had to work for most of his attempts and often at the price of contact. Each time he got off the court to make the bonus and run back on defense where Applewhite had a hand in three steals. But his total output was post-game news.
“Honestly I didn’t know I had a double-double until a few seconds ago! It feels good, just having the great teammates I have to keep motivating me to work hard.”
Sword’s superb first half didn’t continue as he managed just a free throw in the second, leaving him at 16 total points. So the sophomore failed to extend his streak of 20-plus-point games past three. He left the court at 4:19 with a cramp, and his teammates managed just six more points the rest of the way.
But the contest had been put under control much earlier. If it wasn’t Sword slashing for layups and fouls, it was forward Colin Borchert finding openings for jumpers. The senior stuck a pair of first-half treys and had eight points in the period, more than any Rattler in fact. In the last half Borchert was more a factor on the defensive end as he blocked three shots.
Inside or outside, “I thought (FAMU) gambled a lot, and we could take advantage of that,” Ray said. By the same token Rattler gambling or just rambling between man and zone and sometimes a mishmash of both was a challenge. “We didn’t know what they were in,” Sword said. “Sometimes it looked like a man and sometimes like a zone. So we kept moving the ball around.”
The result was 52% shooting and the healthy lead. “I thought we came out with a lot of energy the first half,” Ray said. The second half saw the Bulldog margin peak at 62-36 with over ten minutes left. Florida A&M couldn’t really come back while State struggled to score baskets. Mostly, Ray said, because the Dogs didn’t make enough stops to get their own transition going and allowed FAMU to set up in traps and presses.
But the win was never endangered. “I thought Andre did a really good job getting to loose balls and offensive rebounds, and providing that energy that Rocquez Johnson supplied.” Big forward Johnson played just four minutes, all in the first half, and was scoreless on a mildly-sprained knee from last Friday’s game.
Guard Trivante Bloodman had 10 points for State with ten from Borchert as well. Guard D’Andre Bullard paced the Rattlers as the only double-digits scorer with 14 points. Despite Applewhite’s big night on the glass FAMU came away with more total rebounds, 48 to 40, which won’t please the coach.
But at least his team took their free throw orders to heart and improved that, so much that they made and took the most charity shots since 2002. State also got to put walk-on forward Tevin Moore on the court, and the juco transfer scored a basket on the first chance.
The Bulldogs don’t have much time to recover from this game, as they are back in the Hump for a Thursday night matchup with Florida Gulf Coast. Game time is 8:00 for CSS telecast.