December 5, 2012 10:04:46 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Even teammates were starting to get on Mississippi State University senior forward Wendell Lewis about his poor start to the 2012-13 season.
Not any longer.
Lewis posted his second career-high scoring effort in a row Tuesday, pouring in 20 points in MSU's 53-42 victory against the University of Texas-San Antonio at Humphrey Coliseum.
"I can keep repeating this because I feel good," Lewis said.
Lewis had his second career double-double (16 points, 11 rebounds) Saturday in a 73-63 loss at Providence College. While encouraged by the showing, MSU coach Rick Ray said Monday that Lewis, a 6-foot-8 forward, needed to put consecutive performances together. His senior post player has answered the call to start the month.
"Wendell has scored a lot of points in his career, and it's difficult to go from being a role guy that doesn't score a lot of point to being a focal point of the offensive end," Ray said. "He's not fighting us on it and he's getting uncomfortable with double teams now."
Both teams went through a seven-minute scoring drought in the first half and shot 10-for-42 from beyond the 3-point arc. The total of 37 turnovers was one more than the total number of field goals the teams combined for Tuesday in the Bulldogs' third consecutive victory this season in Starkville.
Ray said his team needs to embrace a new way of winning.
"We've been talking to our guys for quite a while now about winning some ugly basketball games when our offense isn't very good and make
bad decisions," Ray said. "Our defensive effort was tremendous tonight."
The 42 points tied the lowest number of points allowed by MSU since a 61-39 victory on Jan. 9, 2008, at LSU. MSU did a much better job "jumping to the basketball" on defense and had most of their season-high seven blocked shots from the perimeter. Freshman Fred Thomas (three blocks) also energized the announced crowd of 2,898 with hustle plays.
"Any time we go over the film, we focus on defense," Thomas said. "We don't worry or go over offense at all right now."
UTSA (3-5) was without senior guard Michael Hale III. The 5-foot-9
prospect from North Idaho College recently suffered a knee injury. He didn't play Saturday in an 85-52 loss to California State University Bakersfield. He started the team's first six games, and is shooting 54.4 percent from the field, is second on the team in scoring (16.5 points per game), and is first in assists (19). UTSA's starting guards were 5-for-29 from the field and had 12 turnovers.
"We could never make that run, and I really credit that to the absence of Mike Hale," UTSA coach Brooks Thompson said. "He's our floor leader, but he's our vocal leader and gets everybody going. I think this game kind of set basketball back about 50 years if you watched it as a fan."
Thompson, who was a candidate for the MSU opening in the offseason, has seen UTSA lose five straight games when the opponents shoot better than 40 percent from the field.
"We did some different things defensively than we normally do just to keep them out of the paint, make them take contested shots," Thompson said. "I thought we did a pretty good job of that. But Mississippi State did what it had to do to win."
Freshman guard Craig Sword also had 13 points (5-for-9 from the field) for MSU.
MSU will return to action Dec. 15 when it travels to the University of Loyola at Chicago. The game will commemorate the historic 1963 NCAA tournament game the teams played in East Lansing, Mich.
"We have to take advantage of these 10 days and let our guys take one or two days of rest," Ray said. "We're going to have one or two days of doing nothing but individual work. We have to use this time in a valuable way because from here on it's nothing but game preparation."