January 25, 2014 11:10:33 PM
OXFORD -- Rick Ray finally had enough Saturday.
With 16 minutes, 9 seconds remaining in the game, the MSU second-year men's basketball coach looked down his bench and was desperate to find five players who wanted to play with effort at Ole Miss. He said he wasn't trying to send a message when he substituted his five starters, but it may have been interpreted as one in an 82-63 loss at Tad Smith Coliseum.
"Those guys weren't playing very well and we wanted to put in some guys that would go in there and compete," Ray said. "I'm trying to win, so there was no message."
Ray removed all five starters with his team down 45-30, and for nearly four minutes MSU played with walk-ons Tyson Cunningham and Tevin Moore and De'Runnya Wilson, who finished his stint with the MSU football team a little more than a month ago. Ray said it was a strategic move to try to get back in the game and get defensive stops after Ole Miss scored on three of its first four possessions in the second half.
"We got to come out and be aggressive," MSU freshman point guard IJ Ready said. "I don't think we have enough heart right now."
Ole Miss stretched the lead to more than 20 points before Ray sent the starting five of Gavin Ware, Colin Borchert, Fred Thomas, Craig Sword, and Trivante Bloodman back in. MSU's bench outscored its starters Saturday 33-30. Ready and junior Roquez Johnson led the way with 13 points. Ready and Johnson were the two scholarship players Ray sent in in his mass substitution. Both said they noticed a difference in the energy of the new players.
Ready passed his impact concussion test Friday and played 17 minutes off the bench. After the game, he said he expects a team meeting to take place soon to address MSU's struggles away from Humphrey Coliseum.
"I don't like losing, (so) it'll be addressed," Ready said about the struggles on the road. "Not in a bad way, but it'll be addressed as a team. We have to stay on the same page.
Ray on Ware's foul trouble: "It's Gavin's fault"
At the under-12 media timeout, Ware checked back after a short rest with 11 minutes, 44 seconds remaining in the first half. The former Starkville High School standout already had one foul and needed to avoid picking up another foul. Forty-two seconds later, Ole Miss went at the 6-foot-9 post player and drew his second foul, which forced Ware to sit the rest of the half.
Ray didn't mince words about his expectations of Ware.
"It's Gavin's fault," Ray said. "He is not where he needs to be. He's always late in helping and when he's late, he fouls."
Saturday marked the 10th game Ware has picked up at least three fouls in a game.
"If he was filling his responsibilities and doing what he was supposed to be doing, Gavin Ware wouldn't be fouling," Ray said.
Sword's offensive struggles continue
For the second-straight game, MSU's leading scorer Craig Sword was held under double digits.
Sword, who came to Oxford averaging 14.5 points per game, had just four Saturday against a harassing zone trap. Sword was 2 of 7 and had three turnovers in 22 minutes.
"I don't know what it is, but I do think he had some untimely turnovers," Ray said.
In the past two games, Sword has made three field goals. Saturday marked the second game the 6-foot-3 guard failed to get to the free throw line.
"He's very, very good at beating you off the dribble, and he's got a knack to slither through traffic," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "We had to call splits and make sure he didn't split two people on our zone to keep him out of the lane."
In a 76-72 home victory against Ole Miss on Jan. 11, Sword didn't make a field goal but finished with 15 points from the free throw line.
Before Saturday, Sword had only been held to less than 10 points three times this season.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.