December 20, 2013 12:17:30 PM
STARKVILLE -- 'Dunk City' is false advertisement.
Mississippi State proved Florida Gulf Coast's marketing campaign from their Sweet is a falsehood or at least was at Humphrey Coliseum.
Thursday night was a matter of personal pride by the Bulldogs to not allow Florida Gulf Coast to get out in transition to replicate any spectacular offense like they showed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. The result in the Bulldogs 66-53 victory was no dunks for the high-flying Eagles and a tempo that allowed for a dominating win.
"Coach (Ray) came in the locker room and they were all about getting out on the break and dunking," MSU freshman IJ Ready said. "We knew all about Dunk City and what they did in the tournament and we weren't going to let that happen."
Mississippi State's transition defense and then packed-in zone completely contained FGCU junior point guard Brett Comer's 94-feet game to just four fast break points in the 40-minute contest. Comer did lead the Eagles (5-6) with 15 points but the 6-foot-3 guard was unable to turn the corner on any MSU defender and get in the lane for a layup or a highlight reel dunk the program became famous for last March.
"I would hope that they don't want to get dunked on any game," MSU coach Rick Ray said laughing. "But I think that Florida Gulf Coast is really lethal in transition. We made a point of that -- we can't let these guys get in transition."
MSU sophomore guard Craig Sword led all scorers with 17 points as the Montgomery, Ala., native is shooting an astonishing 71.4 percent from the field (35 of 49) in his last five games. Sword also took the responsibility to handle Comer in a man-to-man setting.
"The big men have been getting me open on the screens," said Sword. "I have also been more aggressive taking the ball to the rim. My patience has been a lot better this year and that is why I am getting more good shots on the offensive end."
FGCU took over the nation's attention for nearly two weeks after defeating Georgetown and San Diego State in the 2013 NCAA Tournament and becoming the first 15-seed to get to the second weekend of March Madness. However, their coach for that run, Andy Enfield, immediately left for the opening at Southern California and former Kansas assistant Joe Dooley hasn't been able to replicate the excitement.
"When you're throwing the ball the other way it's hard," Dooley said. "I thought from a passing and catching standpoint and in every aspect to be honest, we were very poor. For whatever reason, we cmd out sluggish and slow and I don't really know why."
A lot of that sluggish play Dooley referenced was mostly due to MSU (8-2) forcing 21 turnovers Thursday night, which was a season high for the Eagles as the Bulldogs tied a season high for steals with 15. Those FGCU miscues resulted in 16 MSU points and allowed the Bulldogs to set the tone early in a game that had just two lead changes. The Eagles never regained the lead after Mississippi State guard Fred Thomas hit a 3-pointer to make it 10-8 with 14:41 left in the first half.
"For us, it's really all about our defense," Ready said. "We'll go through practice sometimes and never work on our offense. If we play defense, then we can turn that into offense."
Thursday night marked the first time under Ray that MSU managed to defeat a team that had reached the NCAA Tournament the previous year and did so with the best defensive effort of the 2013-14 season. The 53 points is the lowest total for a MSU opponent since a 60-42 win over Alcorn State on Nov. 27, 2012.
"I think what you're seeing too is the idea that without class in session right now our guys are doing what they're supposed to and work on their games," Ray said. "It's all about basketball now and they're all maturing to take their individual responsibilities to get their work in."
MSU returns to the road for a Sunday night contest with South Florida in the opening round of the Las Vegas Classic. Game time is set for 7 p.m. CT from the Orleans Arena.
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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