January 4, 2013 10:50:08 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State University men's basketball fans may see head coach Rick Ray out in public more often this week.
Ray no longer is embarrassed to be recognized as the leader of the Bulldogs program. A 51-point victory in the team's final non-conference game will do that for a coach.
"My wife wanted to see a movie and celebrate New Year's Day and we'd just lost to Alabama A&M (the day before)," Ray said. "I was embarrassed to be out in public."
MSU's 97-46 victory against the University of New Orleans on Thursday night at Humphrey Coliseum helped Ray forget about a disappointing 59-57 loss against Alabama A&M University on Dec. 30.
"This was a good win for us on several fronts," Ray said. "We had to come back from the public embarrassment of the loss to Alabama A&M. That can be difficult to do at times. The thing about the loss to Alabama A&M is we played our best basketball for the first 15 minutes. Tonight, we were able to keep that up throughout the game."
MSU (5-7) forced 23 turnovers and held New Orleans (3-9) to 33.3-percent shooting.
"I thought our guys are just really active," Ray said. "Once you force 23 turnovers, it gives you a chance to go out and play transition basketball. I don't care what team you are, you always play better in transition because you are playing advantage basketball. You are not playing against a set defense. That's what we want."
MSU's ability to create turnovers prevented it from having a scoring drought that proved to be its downfall in its last game. Against UNO, MSU built a 12-0 lead and used a 17-0 run to turn a 44-23 advantage into a 38-point blowout with 13 minutes left.
"We put more emphasis on finishing the game this time," MSU junior guard Jalen Steele said. "In the second half we had to keep up the momentum and the intensity, and we did that tonight."
East Mississippi Community College transfer Colin Borchert led MSU with 17 points and eight rebounds. The 6-foot-8 junior showed he can have success in the paint and not only be a threat from the perimeter.
"We were just finishing the ball," Borchert said. "Coach has been talking about for a while is finishing easy layups, and we've been doing it practice. We've been taking out the pads and getting a little contact and just mainly finishing the ball, putting it in the rim."
The Bulldogs had five players in double figures, including three prominent figures (Steele, sophomore Roquez Johnson, and freshman guard Fred Thomas) that led to 46 bench points.
Steele had 16 points in 20 minutes, his second double-figure effort in as many nights since returning last week from a broken wrist injury. The former starter, who was one of two players with any significant playing experience, was 4-for-6 from beyond the 3-point arc.
"The Alabama (A&M) game I felt (the rust), and this game it was slowly coming back and I feel better within the flow of the game," Steele said. "It's coming back slowly and it's about there and by next game, it'll be fully back."
MSU will open Southeastern Conference play at 7 p.m. Wednesday against the University of South Carolina in Starkville. It prepared for that game against a UNO team that is in its first season back in Division I. The Privateers defended the Bulldogs with a variety of looks, including man-to-man, at least three zones, and a full-court press. MSU responded by shooting a season-high 56.5 percent from the field (35 of 62) and hit a season-high 10 3-pointers.
"I think that's the beautiful thing about teaching your guys motion," Ray said. "When you teach your guys motion, you're really teaching them how to play basketball. You got to give them a way to play basketball so they have a free-flowing offensive structure."