November 30, 2012 2:36:22 PM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State University men's basketball team will finally be able to share sympathy with an opponent this weekend.
When MSU travels to the Dunkin Doughnuts Center to take on Providence College at 11 a.m. Saturday (ESPNU) in the SEC-Big East Challenge, one of the first things it likely will notice is the number of players on the Friars bench.
After an injury to a starter five minutes into a season-opening victory against the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the Friars (5-2) are down to six academically eligible scholarship players. Coach Ed Cooley describes his team as "the walking wounded."
MSU first-year coach Rick Ray understands Providence's position. He will bring only nine players, including seven on scholarship, to Rhode Island.
"Unfortunately they have experienced guys coming back in those six guys on scholarship," Ray said Tuesday after a 60-42 victory against Alcorn State University at Humphrey Coliseum. "I've known Ed Cooley, and he does a good job recruiting and coaching. We just got to get our guys in the mentality to go out and compete."
The Friars haven't allowed their lack of numbers to affect their defense. They have allowed less than 50 points in their past two victories against Fairfield University and the College of Holy Cross.
"It's actually the opposite," Cooley said when asked if it's easier to coach defense than an offense with a lack of depth. "Psychologically, guys want energy on offense and I want to rest on offense and play as hard as we can on defense."
Borchert returns to lineup after 3-game suspension
Ray joked Colin Borchert's return gave the Bulldogs another scholarship Tuesday night -- at least for a short while.
"It would've been nice had he not fouled out and put us back where we had been," Ray said with a smile.
In his return from a three-game suspension that forced him to miss MSU's trip to the Maui invitational, Borchert had six points and four rebounds in 15 minutes against Alcorn State.
The Phoenix, Ariz., native, an All-America transfer from East Mississippi Community College, started the first two games for the Bulldogs and is averaging 5.3 points and 3.7 rebounds in 23.3 minutes a game.
"It is unfortunate for the rest of our team with all we have been through thus far that we had to suspend Colin," Ray said before leaving for a trip.
Borchert was informed of the suspension last week after Ray learned about the violation before the start of the season. Borchert has provided shooting ability at power or small forward. He averaged 15.3 points and 7.7 rebounds last season and was named a third-team National Junior College Association All-American
"He is a kid that can make shots," Ray said. "He's a good passer. The one thing Colin struggled with was defensive rebounding. He's got to come in and help us with that category or we will be back in the same spot before his suspension."
New starters lead to fast start vs. Alcorn State
Ray has repeatedly said he doesn't care who starts a game. With only nine active players, his point is well accepted.
However, freshman center Gavin Ware and junior walk-on forward Tyson Cunningham made their first starts and gave MSU (2-4) an emotional and physical lift against Alcorn State.
Ware, a three-star product out of Starkville High School, had seven points and a team and career-high 12 rebounds. The 6-foot-9 post player had six early points to trigger a run that allowed MSU to coast to a victory.
"I don't get wrapped up in starting lineups because guys are going to play," Ray said earlier in the week. "There are only two centers. They are both going to play."
Ware's physical presence in the paint is something Ray often refers to as a throwback.
"The one thing struggled with is the length of Texas in Maui," Ray said. "He had an opportunity where he had his shot blocked and we had to teach him you just can't go over guys like that. I'm really pleased with Gavin's progress. He hasn't backed down from anybody. When he gets the ball in the post, he does a good job of scoring."
Cunningham, a former star at Columbus High, was a practice player for the MSU women's team two years ago. He is averaging 24.3 minutes this season.
The 6-3 wing player averaged 11.2 points and six rebounds a game as a senior at Columbus High, where he started all 24 games.
Cunningham hit his second career 3-pointer Tuesday for his only basket, but he also had six rebounds, including five on the offensive end.
"Tyson continues to be our best communicator, and it was those five offensive rebounds that gave us the most life," Ray said. "I was happy with his contribution."