March 13, 2013 2:12:17 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- The motto for Gavin Ware is since this is likely the last trip for the Mississippi State University men's basketball team, let's make it last as long as possible.
The Bulldogs freshman center told the media Tuesday afternoon he had packed enough clothes and personal items to last all five days of the Southeastern Conference tournament that starts with MSU (9-21, 4-14) facing the University of South Carolina (14-17, 4-14) at 6:30 p.m. today (SEC Network).
"In my mind, when I started packing, coach said pack for a few days and so that's what I did," Ware said. "I don't plan on coming home anytime soon. I want to make this opportunity last and play all the game you can. I packed for however many we need to be down there."
Ware is among eight active players on the MSU roster that will all be experiencing the league tournament for the first time in their college careers.
"I tell you what, the good thing about it is you always play an exempt tournament in the season, so our guys have been out to Maui, and they've been in a tournament situation," MSU coach Rick Ray said. "So it's not the first time they've played in a tournament. Now, this is a little different because you know you're playing for something."
The third matchup of the season between the two teams will come just seven days after South Carolina defeated MSU 79-72 in a game where Bulldogs junior guard Jalen Steele tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee ending his 2012-13 season. MSU took the first matchup 56-54 at Humphrey Coliseum to open SEC play on Jan. 9.
"I just think everybody talks about the SEC Tournament being wide open," Ray said. "I don't really know what that means, but I don't know if it's wide open for everybody. I'm looking for the opportunity for our guys to go out and see what we can do against South Carolina. We'll take care of that first."
South Carolina's emotion and execution starts and finishes with junior point guard Bruce Ellington as he is averaging nine points per game but Ray said Tuesday his speed with the ball is what makes the Gamecocks' transition game so dangerous.
"We've got to do a better job of keeping him off the baseline drives," Ray said. "The second thing is obviously our defense on (second-leading scorer) Brenton Williams. He's starting to turn the corner as far as being a scorer for them, and I thought that we weren't very sound guarding him -- obviously, he got 38 points."
The winner of the MSU-USC game will get No. 5 seed University of Tennessee Thursday at 2:30 p.m. at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
The team programs on Wednesday night will feature numerous selections to the league's All-Freshman team as Bulldogs Ware and guard Craig Sword took home the honor along with South Carolina's Michael Carrera.
Sword paces the Bulldogs with 10.3 points per game and has recorded double figures in the last two games.
"I think he has matured more," Ware said of Sword. "When he was at the (Mississippi-Alabama all-star game) he was the man. You step into a Division 1 school, everybody comes from a place where they were the man. He has matured more and learned to slow down and look at the opportunities on the floor before he tries to score."
USC coach Frank Martin will be busy once his season ends with the Gamecocks as the former Kansas State University coach was selected Tuesday as an assistant for Team USA in the 2013 World University Games Team, which will take place July 7-16 in Kazan, Russia. Martin will be an assistant with University of Michigan head coach John Beilein under Davidson University coach Bob McKillop.
"This is an unbelievable honor," said Martin in the release. "It's the ultimate honor as a coach-slash-athlete to be a part of a team that represents your country. To be around such great coaches and great players and to put on that shirt that says USA is going to be an unbelievable moment for me."
MSU won its last two home games to gain a sense of momentum heading into the postseason, including a thrilling 74-71 overtime victory against Auburn on Saturday.
Former East Mississippi Community College transfer Colin Borchert recorded his first career double-double by netting 20 points and 13 rebounds. Borchert has been part of a major tournament after leading EMCC to the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.
" I've been extremely excited because I've never been able to play this caliber of basketball in the SEC Tournament," Borchert said Tuesday. "I'm kind of ready to see how the outcome will be because coach says the games will be physical because this is the end. We're all new and have never experienced this before."