January 19, 2014 5:04:18 AM
STARKVILLE - Gavin Ware figured out Saturday was finally his time.
The Mississippi State sophomore center even got visibly angry at his teammates during possessions he didn't get the ball during the Bulldogs 81-72 home victory in overtime over Texas A&M.
Ware made his presence known early and often with 22 points and 10 rebounds, his sixth double-double performance of the 2013-14 season, including the game's most critical basket in regulation.
During a timeout in the second half, Ware screamed at both Trivante Bloodman and Fred Thomas to not get him a post look on back-to-back possessions with the 270-pound center working to get position on the block.
"(Gavin) needs to be that way all the time and that's the key," MSU coach Rick Ray said. "We do a lot of things to get Gavin the ball. He's got to continue to work the post to create seals because teams will make mistakes if we force them into it."
They eventually listened and Ware had eight points in the overtime session where MSU outscored the Aggies 14-5 to get its 10th victory at home this season.
"I had to scowl at Fred Thomas a little bit early on but we worked some things out in the timeout and we got it all figured out when to get me a look inside," Ware said.
On a runner near the baseline with 30 seconds left, Craig Sword failed to convert with MSU (12-5, 2-2 in Southeastern Conference) down two but Ware failed to quit on the play. Even when it appeared, Texas A&M has corralled the basketball, Ware's pressure on the rebounder forced a turnover and he turned the mistake into the game-tying basket.
"Normally I just raise my arms as I'm going down the court to the other end and as I'm doing that, the ball touched my hand," Ware said. "I was as shocked as anybody and at that point I'm thinking 'well, do I pass or g in and try to dunk this?"
Texas A&M (12-5, 3-1 in SEC) came into the contest leading the Southeastern Conference in field goal percentage defense but it's sunk-in 2-3 zone defense wasn't enough to contain an aggressive Ware inside. MSU shot 63.3 percent in the final 25 minutes thanks to getting timely jump shots from Sword and Thomas. Thomas finished with 13 points in 41 minutes that included five rebounds and three steals.
Following a lackluster offensive effort at Alabama, Ray said he gave his players a rule that the basketball had to be passed into the post or driven into the lane before a outside shot was allowed.
"Our guys had a directive that they couldn't shoot a three-pointer until the ball touched the paint and that's the way we have to play," Ray said. "We're going to play that way until we start shooting better. If they want to shoot threes then get in the gym and shoot it."
Sword again made his mark on the free throw line by getting to the charity stripe. Eight of Sword's game-high 23 points came after getting fouled as the sophomore has shot double-digits free throw attempts in three of MSU's first four SEC games.
MSU looked out of sync offensive without the calming influence of freshman point guard IJ Ready where the Aggies got consistent stops by forcing contested jump shots. However, A&M's 1 for 6 problems at the foul line caused MSU to take a 27-26 lead at halftime.
"The fact of the matter is we didn't shoot free throws well enough, we didn't adjust to the officiating well and Gavin Ware destroyed us near the basket," Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. "We simply had no answer for him at all."
Ready was held out of action in MSU's 81-72 overtime victory Saturday after suffering a severe head injury in the loss at Alabama earlier in the week. MSU coach Rick Ray confirmed Saturday Ready was diagnosed with a concussion. This is Ready's second injury in the 2013-14 season Wednesday night after the Little Rock, Ark. native missed four games early in November with a severely strained hamstring. Saturday marked the fifth game he's missed this season because of a injury.
"It's in the hands of the doctors and the medical staff when we get IJ Ready back on the floor," Ray said when asked for a update on Ready's status. "I have no update because I don't want to interfere in their ability to do their job."
Ray's policy on injuries in the past with all players has been to exclude himself from the diagnosis and the rehabilitation in order to properly allow for a honest assessment from the MSU medical and training staff.
With 9 minutes and 12 seconds left in the first half at Alabama Wednesday, Tide center Carl Engstrom ran over the Bulldogs 5-foot-11 guard for a charging foul. On the play, the back of Ready's head hit the Coleman Coliseum floor and the Little Rock, Ark., native didn't return to the game.
Ready finished with just a single assist, rebound and missed field goal in six minutes during MSU's 80-61 blowout loss at Alabama.
Ready, who is averaging 6.4 points and 3.5 assists per game this season. The point guard combination of junior Trivante Bloodman and Jacoby Davis totaled four assists and four rebounds and just two turnovers while running the Bulldogs motion offense.
"I thought our guards did a good job today in making sure the ball moved and got where it needed to go at the end of the possession," Ray said. "To score 81 points and to shoot close to 53 percent from the contest is very huge for this team."
MSU welcomes Auburn to the Humphrey Coliseum for a 7 p.m. start Wednesday and Ready's status will likely be a game-time decision for that contest as well.
Against a very methodical approach from A&M, MSU managed to get out in transition for 16 fast break points thanks to giving the Aggies just one offensive rebound in the second half.
"We're a running team and we have to in order to have the full success we're capable of," Thomas said. "When we get out on the break, we feel like nobody can stop us from getting to the hole."
Texas A&M junior forward Jamal Jones was on his way to being remembered for a career-high scoring day until he got into a altercation late with MSU players and the officiating crew.
With MSU up 77-70 and 87 seconds left in overtime, MSU sophomore forward Fred Thomas and Jones got into a verbal shouting match at center court resulting in double technicals for both players. Jones reacted verbally to game official Ron Groover's technical foul and caused a second technical to be assessed resulting in his immediate ejection from the game.
Jones, who had a game-high 24 points, was escorted off the Humphrey Coliseum floor past screaming fans into the Aggies locker room. After the contest, Billy Kennedy opened his media conference by apologizing for Jones' actions at the end.
"I've never had a team act like that and act with that kind of character," Kennedy said. "That's not the type of way I want a basketball team of mine to react and behave."
A&M (12-5, 3-1 in Southeastern Conference) will next play at No. 13 Kentucky Tuesday at 8 p.m. and it is currently unknown if Jones will be suspended by the league office for that contest.
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.
3. Hauntings and Humans BOOK REVIEWS