November 13, 2012 4:17:19 PM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State University men's basketball program will try to avoid a dubious distinction tonight.
MSU (0-1) hasn't lost its first two games in a season since 1967 when Jan Dan Gold was in his second year after replacing legendary coach Babe McCarthy.
In his first season in Starkville, MSU coach Rick Ray will look to get his first victory when his team plays host to Florida Atlantic University (0-1) in its home opener at Humphrey Coliseum. The matchup is part of the pre-qualifying games for the 2012 EA Sports Maui Invitational.
Ray, who replaced Rick Stansbury, the school's all-time wins leader, watched his team struggle early Friday in a 56-53 loss at Troy University.
"I know our guys are just ready to get back on the court after a tough loss," Ray said. "I was proud of the way our guys fought back and played in the second half, but we need that type of competitive spirit for two halves."
FAU, which is led by veteran coach Mike Jarvis, fell to No. 11 University of North Carolina 80-56 despite an 18-point effort from Greg Gantt. Gantt started and scored 12 points last season when FAU shocked MSU 61-59 in Starkville in the fifth game of the 2010-11 season.
Ray will try to get his new motion offense to run smoother in half-court sets. On Friday, MSU was 15 of 37 from inside the 3-point arc.
"In the first half, we didn't show any form of discipline on offense, and that's disappointing," Ray said. "For this team to be successful, we're going to have to grind out some possessions. 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."
The return of sophomore Roquez Johnson could help MSU increase its productivity in the paint, but the 6-foot-7 forward is a game-time after he suffered a concussion days before the season opener.
Johnson didn't travel to Troy after suffering a concussion in practice that knocked him out after he fell to the floor. MSU basketball spokesman Gregg Ellis said Monday that Johnson was being re-evaluated by the team's medical and training staff.
"Fortunately he didn't come down in the incident on his head and the concussion was from the collision, and once that happened, we knew instantly he wouldn't be able to play (Friday)," Ray said. "When you're dealing with a concussion, that's serious business, so I don't know his medical status. Our team trainers and doctors will have to answer that later."
After tonight, MSU will step up in competition when it faces North Carolina at 5 p.m. Nov. 19 in its first game of the Maui Invitational.
"I think any young man who grows up watching college basketball grows up dreaming wanting to play out in Maui," Ray said Aug. 9. "The (Maui) tournament is very difficult and a very daunting task. I think our guys look forward to the opportunity, and 20 years from now they can say they had the chance to play in the Maui Invitational. I think the only tournament in this day and age that even rivals it is the Atlantis tournament."