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MSU NOTEBOOK: Ray insists on no excuses following season-opening loss

 

Matthew Stevens

 

TROY, Ala. -- Mississippi State University coach Rick Ray insisted Friday night he wouldn't make excuses following his team's frustrating 56-53 loss at Troy University. 

 

One might have chosen to excuse the Bulldogs first-year coach if he had decided to do so after another crushing injury days before the game hit the MSU program. 

 

MSU (0-1) came to the arena Friday night with an even smaller bench then they expected after sophomore forward Roquez Johnson did not make the trip after suffering a concussion in practice Thursday. Johnson was knocked completely out after falling to the floor during drills a day before the season opener and was immediately ruled out of competition so Ray wasn't going to even risk bringing the sophomore to Troy University. 

 

"In order for this team to be successful we're going to have to grind out some possessions because we're short another man with not having Roquez Johnson as another body hurt us," Ray said after the game. "We can't make excuses and we have to come out and get victories." 

 

Johnson was expected to start Friday, as he had in last weekend's exhibition game against NAIA's William Carey University. The sophomore averaged just 3.5 minutes per game in 13 games last season and scored one point in the 2011-12 campaign. Without Johnson, East Mississippi Community College transfer Colin Borchert got the start and finished with seven points and three rebounds in 32 minutes. 

 

Johnson's injury caused MSU to be down to nine active players Friday night, seven of whom are on scholarship. Johnson's status for the home opener with Florida Atlantic University Tuesday night will be determined in the next few days. 

 

"Fortunately he didn't come down in the incident on his head and the concussion was from the collision and once that happened, we knew instantly he wouldn't be able to play (Friday)," Ray said. "When you're dealing with a concussion, that's serious business so I don't know his medical status so our team trainers and doctors will have to answer that later." 

 

n Former SHS star Gavin Ware gets double digits in college debut: A major positive aspect for the MSU program coming out of Trojan Arena Friday night was the college basketball debut of freshman center Gavin Ware. 

 

Ware, the one frontcourt player that established himself offensively on either team in the Bulldogs 56-53 defeat, was able to get consistent touches inside the paint leading to an impressive 10 points off 5-for-6 shooting, seven rebounds and a block in 24 minutes of action. 

 

"As a team we just hustled and play," Ware said. "My job tonight was to find a way to contribute to the team as a low post presence and do whatever I could for the team." 

 

Ware was a four-star recruit out of nearby Starkville High School and has worked extensively with the MSU training staff to control his weight issue and has begun the season at a trim 270 pounds for his 6-foot-9 frame. Ware arrived in the fall semester at 290 pounds and steadily over a few weeks of strength training began to shed the extra weight easily. 

 

Ware averaged 15.2 points per game and 4.9 rebounds in senior season of high school with the up-tempo style of the SHS program. As a junior he averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds per contest. 

 

"Gavin is going to have the opportunity to play," Ray said at SEC Media Day last month. "No matter how good Wendell Lewis is, he is not going to play 40 minutes a game. Gavin has a big ole body. If he ducks in there there are not very many guys who can keep from getting around him. We expect Gavin to be a big part of our team this year and we really expect a lot of him in the future." 

 

n Senior C Lewis and pair of freshman guards Sword & Thomas disappoint at Troy: The three complete offensive non-factors for MSU Friday night were senior center Wendell Lewis and freshman guards Craig Sword along with Fred Thomas. 

 

Lewis, who took over 36 minutes into the game before attempting his first field goal of the night, finished with just three points before fouling out in just 16 minutes of action. The 6-foot-8 center, who is considered a veteran leader on this MSU team, finished with just two rebounds and four turnovers in just his ninth career start. 

 

Sword, who was making his college basketball debut in front of a hometown crowd as the freshman resides in nearby Montgomery, Ala., had another horrid start similar to his exhibition opener Sunday. Sword played just 10 minutes in the first half and had one point, two fouls, no assists and two turnovers. Sword, who finished with just two points, four rebounds and four turnovers before fouling out in 22 minutes of action, was given the final possession for MSU on a isolation play with the game tied at 53 but was called for traveling as he got the Troy defender in the air and thought he'd caused a shooting foul. 

 

Thomas was just 1-for-8 and as Ray had said in previous media sessions, the freshman from Jackson failed to understand in his college basketball debut the difference between a good and bad shot. 

 

However, Thomas' defensive effort on Troy's Jones was evident even when his shot wasn't falling as the Trojans go-to scorer was just 2-for-6 with four points in the first half.

 

 

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