November 6, 2014 11:18:33 PM
STARKVILLE - In the moments following Mississippi State's 72-51 win over Delta State in an exhibition game Thursday night, Delta State coach Jim Boone sought out MSU junior forward Gavin Ware to share a few words of encouragement.
"I told him after the game that I loved watching him play," said Boone of Ware. "He is such a force inside, he's a really good player. He's very, very physical but he's got a soft touch. I love watching players that are his size play like that."
It was that kind of night for Ware, the Starkville High product who led MSU with 19 points, including 12 in the first half.
A 6-foot-9, 260-pound power forward, Ware displayed a feathery-soft touch around the basket, and stepped outside to drill a 17-foot jump shot on three occasions. Flashing improved shooting range, Ware was a mismatch for the visiting Statesmen from the opening tip, as he scored eight of MSU's first 12 points.
"I am more in-shape, more fit," said Ware. "I definitely think it's a new-and-improved Gavin Ware. I had the jumper last year but now our offense is more pick-and-pop, I think I'm more able to help our team win."
Ware's offensive progression - he scored his 19 points by connecting on an efficient nine-of-13 shooting - combined with a suffocating first-half defensive effort from the Bulldogs put Delta State away early, as the Bulldogs opened the game on a 22-2 run.
In the first half, using an attacking fullcourt press, MSU forced 18 DSU turnovers and limited the Statesmen to just 26 percent shooting in building a 37-16 halftime lead.
"That's what we harp on every day in practice," said MSU junior guard Fred Thomas. "Defense, defense, defense...We were able to get some stops, 10-second violations, shot-clock violations, we had them throwing the ball everywhere, I thought we played great defensively tonight."
On the night, Delta State committed 25 turnovers and shot just 37 percent from the field.
For third-year head coach Rick Ray, MSU's defensive effort was a welcome sight in the team's exhibition opener.
"I thought our guys really came out with great defensive intensity in the first half, and that carried over to the offensive end," said Ray. "But we have to keep that defensive intensity the whole game. I think what happens is that young players, when they get a big lead at halftime, they start focusing more on their offense and less on their defense. That can't happen."
Delta State's offense did come alive in the second half, as the two teams fought to a 35-35 draw after halftime. DSU guard Devin Schmidt, a sophomore, led all scorers with 25 points.
"When you have a scouting report that tells you he's their best scorer and you focus your defense to stop him," said Ray, "then you can't let a guy go off for 25 points."
With Ware leading the offensive charge, several newcomers made a splash in their MSU debuts. Freshman forward Demetrius Houston finished with 12 points and redshirt freshman center Fallou Ndoye added 11.
For the contest, MSU hit 26 of 59 shots from the field (44.1 percent), 2 of 8 shots from 3-point range (25.0 percent) and 18 of 24 shots from the foul line (75.0 percent). Delta State hit 17 of 46 shots from the field (37.0 percent), 7 of 17 shots from 3-point range (41.2 percent) and 10 of 18 shots from the foul line (55.6 percent).
MSU held a 38-34 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 15 assists and 12 turnovers, while the Statesmen had nine assists and 25 turnovers.
For the Bulldogs' offense, it was all about Ware, who showed flashes of brilliance while playing just 19 minutes.
"When you get the ball to Gavin with space to operate, he's pretty effective," said Ray. "He's a big guy who can make that 15-17-foot jumper, and he did that tonight."
MSU will open the regular season one week from tonight with a home game against Western Carolina.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat
1. Columbus ready for annual Joe Horne Christmas Classic HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. MSU records highest GPA in fall semester COLLEGE SPORTS
5. MSU officially announces hiring of Hudspeth COLLEGE SPORTS