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Post-game at Trojan Arena: Troy 56, Mississippi State 53 - Bulldogs drop opener in Rick Ray's regular season debut




Matt Stevens


TROY, Ala. - What did we learn? 


- The beginning of the Rick Ray era Friday night should serve as a harsh reminder to Mississippi State University men's basketball fans that the first-year head coach's rebuilding job is going to be a long and somewhat painful process in the beginning.  


A undermanned and inexperienced MSU squad managed to rebound from a first half where they looked discombobulated and without any communication on defense to nearly steal a road win Friday night in the inaugural regular season game at Troy University's brand new $31 million Trojan Arena.  


Troy (1-0) would get a contested fallaway jump shot with 1.6 seconds left by guard Emil Jones to secure a 56-53 victory Friday night.  




- After appearing to not having any offensive cohesion in a first half that saw Troy get seemingly as many open looks from three-point range as they wished, MSU (0-1) would go down by as many as 16 at one point. Troy hit 7-of-17 three-point shots in the first half to take a 32-22 halftime lead that felt like it could've been more judging by the surge of momentum they took after going on a 30-9 run. 




- In what will be one of the few games all season MSU will have a distinct size advantage at the low block, the Bulldogs were unable to establish an early post presence and missed nine of their of first 10 shots from beyond the three-point arc. It wasn't until freshman Gavin Ware established an inside game in the second half that MSU was able to get consistent touches inside the paint. The former Starkville High School star ended his first college basketball game with an impressive 10 points off 5-for-6 shooting, seven rebounds and a block in 24 minutes of action. 




- MSU came to the arena Friday night with an even smaller bench then they expected after sophomore forward Roquez Johnson did not make the trip after suffering a concussion in practice Thursday. Johnson was knocked completely out after falling to the floor during drills a day before the season opener and was immediately ruled out of competition so Ray wasn't going to even risk bringing the sophomore to Troy University. Johnson's injury caused MSU to be down to nine active players Friday night, seven of which are on scholarship. Johnson's status for the home opener at Florida Atlantic University Tuesday night will be determined in the next few days. 




- MSU was once again out rebounded by smaller squad Friday night just like in the exhibition opener against NAIA's William Carey University. Troy, who didn't start a player taller than 6-foot-6, won the rebounding battle 34-33 and decisively on the offensive glass 14-8. Trojans 6-foot-3 guard Emil Jones, who hit the game-winning shot, grabbed five offensive rebounds to go with his 10 points and three assists in 28 minutes of play. 




- MSU junior guard Jalen Steele did showcase more of a complete game on both ends of the floor as he led all scorers with 16 points and tied Ware for a team-high with seven rebounds. Steele was active on the defensive end with a steal and layup off an errant pass at halfcourt. He also hit a pair of clutch free throws in front of the Troy student section to tie the score at 53 with 1:08 left in the game. 




Here's some other notes from MSU's regular season opener loss Friday night:  




- The first five points of the brand new Trojan Arena were scored by MSU forward Colin Borchert. The transfer from East Mississippi Community College hit a three-pointer to get the Bulldogs on the board and then had another jumper fall with 16:27 left in the first half. The 6-foot-8 forward would only register two more points, on a offensive tip-in in the second half, throughout the night and finished 3-for-9 from the field in 32 minutes of action. Borchert also seemed out of place on defense often Friday night as Troy's four-guard lineup forced him to guard a quicker and shifter player at the perimeter.  




- The comeback effort of MSU in the second half was spearheaded by sophomore point guard Trivante Bloodman. The Olney (Ill.) Central College transfer originally from New York got the start but was replaced 27 seconds into the game by Craig Sword after a silly foul. However, it was Bloodman's energy on offense and defensive intensity that swung the momentum for MSU and got them on a 20-11 run in the second half. Bloodman would finish with 11 points, four rebounds, one assist and two turnovers in 33 minutes. 




- The three complete non-factors for MSU Friday night were senior center Wendell Lewis and freshman guards Craig Sword along with Fred Thomas. Lewis, who took over 36 minutes into the game before attempting his first field goal of the night, finished with just three points before fouling out in just 16 minutes of action. The 6-foot-8 center, who is considered a veteran leader on this MSU team, finished with just two rebounds and four turnovers in just his ninth career start. Sword, who was making his college basketball debut in front of a hometown crowd as the freshman resides in nearby Montgomery, Ala., had another horrid start similar to his exhibition opener Sunday. Sword played just 10 minutes in the first half and had one point, two fouls, no assists and two turnovers. Sword, who finished with just two points, four rebounds and four turnovers before fouling out in 22 minutes of action, was given the final possession for MSU on a isolation play with the game tied at 53 but was called for traveling as he got the Troy defender in the air and thought he'd caused a shooting foul. Thomas was just 1-for-8 and as Ray had said in previous media sessions, the freshman from Jackson failed to understand in his college basketball debut the difference between a good and bad shot. However, Thomas' defensive effort on Troy's Jones was evident even when his shot wasn't falling as the Trojans go-to scorer was just 2-for-6 with four points in the first half. 




What did we hear? 




Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray  




"I'm disappointed with the loss today. I thought our guys in the second half did some things they needed to do defensively but more importantly we got the ball in the paint. We drove the ball into the paint and looked to our centers more. In the first half, we didn't show any form of discipline on offense and that's disappointing. In order for this team to be successful we're going to have to grind out some possessions because we're short another man with not having Roquez Johnson as another body hurting us. We can't make excuses and we have to come out and get victories." 




On being out of sync in the first half:  




"We weren't in attack mode. We took a couple ill advised shots in the first half and when you shoot 4-for-16 from three, you probably ought to look somewhere else and get the ball into the paint." 




On going to a zone in the first half:  




"I thought our zone wasn't very good and they got some opportunities to shoot some threes. My issue is once the shot went up, we didn't rebound out of the 1-3-1 zone defense and that's one of the problems with playing zone. It's one of the major reasons I'm not a big fan of zone but with the numbers we got right now, it's something I think we have to do." 




On Gavin Ware's performance in his college basketball debut:  




"Gavin is a big body. We want to make sure we utilitze his size and his willingness to post up. Gavin is a throwback (center) where he isn't interested in being out on the perimeter and shooting threes and he wants the ball deep with his back to the basket." 




Mississippi State freshman center Gavin Ware:  




"As a team we just hustled and play. My job tonight was to find a way to contribute to the team as a low post presence and do whatever I could for the team." 




Troy head coach Don Maestri: 




"There's so many people to thank that helped with this place (Trojan Arena) that just started off with an idea our board of trustees had years ago. For this team to experience winning the first game in this arena. You can only do that one time and that was tonight. I obviously want to thank Mississippi State as well because they could've taken the way out. They got a new head coach and we had a contract but I've seen it over the years where a guy gets a job and get control over his schedule, you just pay the buy-out clause and don't come. Why would you play your first game as a head coach to help somebody else open up a new arena? Here's why - Mississippi State, with their athletic director and head coach, are from the old-school where a handshake means something. Too bad most of America isn't like that anymore. It was great they had enough class to back up what they said and come here tonight because that made the game so much more attractive to have an SEC school open up the arena." 




On the final call where Emil Jones took the game-winning shot:  




"I have to give Emil credit for coaching. We called a different play. Emil is from Hattiesburg, Miss., and dreamed about this moment since last spring. He is a very composed kid and wasn't having a great game but came to me and said 'coach I got to have this shot' and we said scratch everything we're doing to give Emil the last shot. It's what people dream about and go over and over in their minds. That was a big time shot." 






What is next? 


Florida Atlantic University (home opener Tuesday at Humphrey Coliseum) 




FAU will officially begin its 2012-13 season on Sunday, November 11 when they travel to the Dean E. Smith Center to play No. 11 University of North Carolina as part of the EA Sports Maui Invitational. 


Owls senior guard Greg Gantt was a preseason second-team all-conference selection after leading the team in scoring for the third straight season. Gantt is on track to become the program's all-time leading scorer this season. 


FAU will have several players looking to make their first official appearance in an Owls' uniform including Parade All-American Stefan Moody and 7-foot Baylor University transfer Dragan Sekelja. FAU held off crosstown rival Lynn in an 87-80 exhibition victory over on Monday night. The Owls, who are coached by veteran Mike Jarvis, lost three starters from last year's 11-19 squad that lost 75-68 last year in Humphrey Coliseum.  




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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