November 14, 2012 9:22:28 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State University men's basketball coach Rick Ray had one message to his team after losing the season opener at Troy University: Get the basketball in the paint.
MSU accomplished that mission Tuesday night in a 78-58 victory against Florida Atlantic University in its home opener at Humphrey Coliseum.
After going 4-for-16 from the 3-point range Friday night in a 56-53 loss at Troy, MSU (1-1) worked the ball inside Tuesday and held a 48-18 advantage in points in the paint.
"The key to this victory is we only took 10 threes," Ray said. "I think at times we take bad, ill-advised shots. I know we're dealing with a whole bunch of younger kids, but they got to learn for us to be successful we have to kind of grind it out."
Sophomore forward Roquez Johnson gave MSU a go-to scorer when the Montgomery, Ala., native got the basketball deep in the post. After missing the season opener at Troy with a concussion, the 6-foot-7 forward had a team-high 17 points and grabbed five rebounds in 23 minutes.
"The Troy game is so close to my home of Montgomery I had a lot of my people come to see that game, so I had to make up for that game," Johnson said. "I'm a high-intensity guy. I bring a lot of energy to the team and everybody moves."
The performance helped Ray earn his first victory at MSU in an effort in which the Bulldogs led by as many as 30 with more than six minutes remaining.
Despite having a smaller rotation due to preseason injuries and an injury Tuesday to junior guard Jalen Steele with 10 minutes, 40 seconds left in the first half, MSU had three players come off the bench to score in double figures. Johnson and freshmen Gavin Ware and Craig Sword combined for 38 of the Bulldogs' 40 bench points
"I just think how hard we want our guys to play basketball on the offensive end and defensive end with cutting, moving, screening all the time and defensively, it's hard to play more than 30 minutes a game," Ray said.
Ware has posted double figures in the first two games. He had 10 points, five rebounds and a steal in 18 minutes Tuesday. The 6-foot-8 product from Starkville High School immediately established post position deep in the lane against bigger defenders.
"After that (Troy) game, we sat back and reviewed tape and we told the perimeter guys to just work with us," Ware said. "When they threw it down in the post, it opened us opportunities for them."
Steele's injury, which silenced the announced attendance of 3,021 at Humphrey Coliseum, came after the junior guard fell on his head following a contested layup. Members of the MSU training staff examined Steele for several minutes before bringing a stretcher on to the court. Steele walked off the floor, and later received eight stitches in his
head before being taken to a local hospital for further evaluations.
Ray didn't have an update on his starting shooting guard following the game.
Greg Gantt led FAU (0-2) with 17 points, but the senior guard was 2-for-10 from 3-point range. Gantt was the only player left on the Owls' roster who helped the team beat the Bulldogs 61-59 in the first month of the 2010-11 season.
After struggling to distribute the ball in Ray's motion offense in the opener, sophomore point guard Trivante Bloodman had a career-high seven assists and only two turnovers in 28 minutes. FAU missed 18 3-pointers, which helped Bloodman -- the smallest player on the floor at 6-foot, 182 pounds -- collected a team-high five rebounds. Bloodman also played a key role in starting a 15-4 run in the first half that stretched MSU's lead to double digits.
"We just said we would do it for Jalen and picked up the intensity," Bloodman said.
MSU's ability to force an inexperienced FAU team into 27 turnovers triggered the run. FAU committed 17 turnovers Sunday in an 80-56 loss at No. 11 University of North Carolina.
"We want to be a team that forces turnovers and that is hard to play against," Ray said. "Then we can just push the basketball and go make plays. That is when I think our guys are at their best."
MSU will face North Carolina at 5 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Maui Invitational When asked after the game if the Bulldogs were ready to play the Tar Heels, Ray said, "Not right now. We haven't prepared for them."