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Pre-game at Trojan Arena: The Rick Ray era begins tonight on the road




Matt Stevens


STARKVILLE, Miss. - No more scrimmages. No more exhibitions. Now, they all count. 


Friday, Mississippi State opens its 101st season of basketball when it travels across state lines to face Troy at 7 p.m. 


This game, however, isn't just a typical season opener. Far from it. 


Instead, it's a historical matchup that features the debut of Rick Ray as the Bulldogs' new coach and the grand opening of Trojan Arena, Troy's new state-of-the-art, $31 million basketball facility. 


"I'm not nervous or eager, but I'm just enthusiastic about getting things underway," Ray said.  "We've watched five or six of their games from last year. Their coach has been there a long time, and he's done things a certain way for a long time, so we don't expect much of a change as far as what they do." 


Mississippi State travels to Troy coming off an 80-74 exhibition win against William Carey on Sunday. In the contest, Jalen Steele led the Bulldogs with 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting, while Colin Borchert, Wendell Lewis and Fred Thomas each added 15. 


"This is going to be a test to see where we're at as a team," Steele said. "This whole week we've being working on little things that we messed up on during the exhibition game. We put a big emphasis on defense and rebounding. When Friday comes we'll see how we are with those because we've been working hard with those." 


Troy was victorious in its final preseason exhibition on Monday night against Division II Alaska-Anchorage, 61-57. Junior transfer Hunter Williams led the squad with 17 points and four assists, while Emil Jones was strong with 12 points and a team-high 10 rebounds.  Josh Warren, another newcomer to the program, tore down nine offensive boards, something that no Trojan has done in a regular season game since 2003. 


Tonight also marks the first time that an Southeastern Conference team will visit Troy for basketball. 


The Bulldogs have enjoyed immense success in openers, posting a 78-22 mark and having won 22 of their last 27, including two in a row. However, MSU hasn't won a season opener on the road since 1966-67, a span of four games, when it upended Northeastern Louisiana, 81-70. 


The last time Mississippi State opened on the road was in 2000-01, when it lost at California, 83-76, as a part of the Preseason National Invitational Tournament. 


"It's their arena, but we are going into a new arena also," Steele said. "We're going against the crowd, and I know they will be hyped. It's going to fuel me, and especially my teammates. I think we're ready for it. We have to keep our heads high and don't let the crowd get into the game." 




All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.



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