November 19, 2013 10:56:33 PM
STARKVILLE - The message from Mississippi State men's basketball coach Rick Ray Tuesday night was the complete opposite of the offseason: Feed Gavin Ware.
In its first two victories of the season, the Bulldogs sophomore center wasn't getting the basketball enough deep in the post for the liking of him or Ray. The point of emphasis was heard loud and clear by MSU as they cruised to a 94-72 blowout victory over Mississippi Valley State.
Despite watching his team defeat Kennesaw State by 23 points five days earlier, Ray has been critical of his guard's inability to get Ware, a 2013 All-Freshman team selection by the Southeastern Conference coaches, enough shots around the basket so the second-year coach immediately drew up a set play for his 6-foot-9 powerhouse.
MSU (3-0) solved that problem early and often as the Delta Devils went with a smaller lineup and didn't double the post leaving a much smaller body one-on-one with the 262-pound Ware. The former Starkville High School star ended the night with his second double-double this season including a career high 23 points along with 11 rebounds.
"It was one of the things the coaches stressed in pre-game so I just commend our guards on working with me in the post," Ware said. "I believe it starts with them and not just my effort down in the post."
Ware, who has struggled with his weight control since high school, had the first five points of the game and 13 points by halftime.
Ware arrived on campus over 290 pounds and has now gotten down to a lean 262 pounds with a new commitment under this MSU coaching staff to simply identify what he can and can't eat from a calorie standpoint on a daily basis. These habits exclude late night trips to Waffle House as a freshman before last season began. The weight training has allowed Ware to look a lot more active than a freshman season where he had just two double-double efforts in 32 last season.
"We noticed it early on when he was 298 pounds because that's really good if you want to play offensive or defensive line for (MSU football coach) Dan Mullen but not so good if you want to play basketball," Ray said. "To Gavin's credit, he did all those things. He controlled his diet and gets on the treadmill with (MSU strength coach) Richard Atkins. If he has a bad night at the Waffle House, he'll run that off the next morning."
Mississippi Valley State (1-3) seemed overmatched in the paint all evening as they 54 points around the basket and saw all three of MSU's post players had a double figure scoring effort with Colin Borchert piling in 14 points and Roquez Johnson adding 12 points off the bench.
"Roquez comes in and is playing with energy," Ray said. "When Roquez comes off the bench, you always notice him because he's on the ground and around the ball. As long as he stays active like that, he can help this basketball team."
MVSU's defensive malfunctions continued in Starkville as the Delta Devils have allowed an average of 100 points per game in its three losses to Division 1 competition (Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and MSU).
For only the fifth time in 11 seasons, MSU has opened up a men's basketball season 3-0 and Ray continues to look at the big picture aspect of wins against inferior competition. The second-year coach was unpleased about the 17 field goals that MVSU had within two feet of the basket. Against a team with quick, slashing guards, MSU was a bit exposed for cheating in the passing lanes and its inability to play man-to-man defense without any backside help as the Delta Devils got 10 wide-open layups.
"We have to be a better individual defensive team because there's always guys that can shoot the basketball," Ray said. "If we're always helping, we're going to eventually get burned on a close out."
MSU was able to exploit MVSU's inability to guard without fouling by getting into the bonus with over 12 minutes left in the game. The Bulldogs were able to pull away at the foul line by converting 16 of 20 from the charity stripe.
MSU will get its first challenge of the 2013-14 when they travel 1,736 miles to Utah State (3-0) Saturday to play a Aggies program that is dominate in its home arena. In the 11 years under head coach Stew Morrill has been at the helm, Utah State has the fourth highest winning percentage in the nation, behind only Duke, Kansas, and Gonzaga. Under Morrill, Utah State is 196-13 at home.
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.
2. Good times roll for Market Street music ENTERTAINMENT
5. W music students present An Evening of Classics ENTERTAINMENT