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Ray concerned about team's slow starts away from home


Matthew Stevens



STARKVILLE -- Rick Ray isn't interested in hearing his team played hard and fought back last weekend. 


Mississippi State University's first-year men's basketball coach doesn't believe the Bulldogs should have put themselves in that position. 


In every game away from Humphrey Coliseum this season, MSU (2-5) has trailed by double digits at halftime by double digits and has lost all five of those games by an average of 20 points. 


"We don't have to have a quick start, just a start that doesn't put us in such a big hole from the get-go," Ray said Monday. "I know a lot of people were patting us on the back about the way we came back (in a 73-63 loss against Providence College on Saturday), but I'm not satisfied with that." 


MSU trailed Providence 39-21 at halftime, and by as much as 26 points with less than 11 minutes remaining. 


"We're just not going to beat anybody if we keep getting down like that in games," MSU senior forward Wendell Lewis said. "We have to find a way to start better and not turn it over so much." 


In each of the five games away from Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, 


MSU has committed at least 15 turnovers. Even though it had only four in the second half Saturday, it still finished with a negative assist-to-turnover ratio (10-to-15). 


"I think the theme is inexperience," Ray said. "The other major issue just finding guys that can score the basketball." 


MSU is trying to survive with point guards -- sophomore Trivante Bloodman and freshman Craig Sword -- who didn't have any Division I experience before this season. The Bulldogs have committed 129 turnovers and have 62 assists this season. They are 330th in the country among 345 Division I programs in turnovers per game (18.4). 


"We take too many threes and contested threes early in the shot clock," Ray said. "I've got to get my guys to understand that shot they're taking with 22 seconds left on the shot clock is going to be there with three seconds left, too." 


When MSU isn't turning it over, it is taking quick and contested shots against defenses that want them to do that. MSU was 2-for-22 from 3-point range against Providence's 2-3 zone. 


"I kept telling them Saturday they're playing a 2-3 zone because they don't believe they can guard you," Ray said. "So in a sense, we were bailing them out constantly by taking 3-point shots, and contested ones at that. We shouldn't be settling for that kind of look." 


For a team that makes only 22.8 percent of its 3-pointers, MSU shoots more than 14 per game. This is a statistic Ray wants to change and to get his players to develop a mid-range games so they don't rely too much on 3-pointers. 


Ray recognizes his team's inconsistency may not get solved overnight, and he reminds fans that upperclassmen aren't necessarily smarter players or don't always play fundamental basketball. 


"Just because you're a senior, doesn't make you a leader," Ray said. 


Ray said he wasn't referring to Wendell Lewis, the only senior on his roster. Lewis, a 6-foot-8 forward, had his second career double-double (16 points, 11 rebounds) against Providence, and may be developing confidence to be a more vocal leader. 


"Being a leader is hard, especially when you're already worried about your game," Lewis said. "When you're not playing well, you're so focused on getting you back on track you can't worry about others at that time." 


Lewis entered the game against Providence averaging less than five points and less than four rebounds per game. 


"I'm glad Wendell had a good game, but he can't be talking five games from now saying, 'Remember that one great game Wendell had,' " Ray said. "Wendell just doesn't have a lot of personal experience to draw from as far talking to the younger guys and being a leader." 


MSU will try to get back on track at 7 tonight when it plays host to the University of Texas at San Antonio in the first meeting between the schools. Former NBA player Brooks Thompson coaches the Roadrunners. He took UTSA to the NCAA tournament two years ago. His name also surfaced as a possible candidate for several job openings, including MSU, before Ray was hired April 1. 


"They are a ball screen, dribble-drive team with really good guards that like to dribble penetrate, and we've got to do a good job of keeping them out of the paint," Ray said. 


The Roadrunners (3-4) are four games into a stretch of six road games in four time zones in the span of a month. UTSA will play games in 12 states this season.



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