A 78-55 win over Kennesaw State completed Ray's great week as the Bulldogs improved to 2-0. This was after Mississippi State took care of fall recruiting on the first day of the November period with no unexpected developments.
"Obviously we were fortunate enough to sign three quality high school players we'd been recruiting for a long time," said Ray. "And we played well on the court." The coach also said there would be no further early period signees, or even come April. "No, we have no intentions of signing anybody in the second period."
Positively as the week went, there were issues arising from beating Kennesaw State which had everyone back at work. Or in one case, not. Freshman point guard I.J. Ready came down badly making a great outlet pass in the second half with a muscle strain. He's tentatively out for at least two weeks and perhaps longer depending on rate of recovery.
"Obviously it's unfortunate IJ is out," Ray said Monday. "The good thing is it's just a strain and not a tear." Ready was not just the quarterback but 14-point scorer in State's opening game victory over Prairie View A&M. And while he didn't score in 24 minutes of the second game Ready did issue six of the team's 16 assists.
The other good thing is, Mississippi State has real alternatives at point guard this winter. Veteran Trivante Bloodman was seasoned at the position last year, and played very well in rotation last Friday. He made two in-traffic shots and drew lots of fouls to tally 11 total points in 16 minutes. He'll draw starting duty tonight.
Also, redshirt freshman Jacoby Davis was cleared for action last week, on Friday in fact, and entered for the final two minutes to make his college debut. Two knee surgeries in his first college year set the talented guard back, but Ray is encouraged Davis is back on track now.
"The way Jacoby practices and his knee is reacting in five-on-five contact, he should be able to fulfill that role." Another role for all point guards is to let soph Craig Sword stay at his best position of off-guard rather than point. Sword is off to a slow shooting start, 8-of-22, and has more turnovers than assists through two games. But State is confident the explosive athlete will find his stride now that he's in the role he was signed for.
Encouraging aspects in the early going is improved outside shooting from soph guard Fred Thomas (4-of-8 at the arc) and senior forward Colin Borchert (4-of-10). However, Ray's review affirmed what he'd thought during the action: the Bulldogs were settling for outside shots too early and a little too often.
Proof was as clear as center Gavin Ware's stat-line: 4-of-4 from the floor, compared to 13 shots by both Borchert and Sword and 14 from Thomas. Game mindsets do differ from practice to be sure, where Ray insists plays are run to get the big sophomore the ball in scoring positions down low. It's just that some Dogs are forgetting their low-post play plans when the clock is running, it seems.
"It's a point of emphasis for us all the time, we simply have not done a good job of that," Ray said. "Part of the reason when teams are pressing and playing zone it knocks us of balance and we don't do a good job getting the ball in the post. Traditionally we're better against man-to-man."
Whatever defense the Dogs see tonight, though, Ray wants the ball going inside to the big Dog. After all, "Gavin shot 100% so it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out he needs more touches."
Mississippi Valley State is 1-2 with two entirely legitimate losses, at both Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. The win was over Champions Baptist (show of hands by any who have heard of that institution?) 108-48. Bulldog teams are 3-0 against the Delta Devils, the last game in 2009; and 22-3 against the current lineup of SWAC schools.
Besides a third win, Ray wants to see progress in a few specific areas. Rebounding most obviously; he thought the Bulldogs defended well most of the last game and very well at times, but too many of the KSU misses went back into Owl hands. He also expects Valley to switch defenses and this offers State opportunity to try getting "comfortable" as Ray calls it against either zone or man. "We go against so much man in practice, it takes the first half to figure out how to run motion against zone."
He also sees something Valley can do that will challenge State's style. "They really played well at Texas A&M, they were down by two with 13 minutes left in the second half. They do a good job of penetrating the paint and drawing fouls. So we have to do a good job setting up, and most important we have to not foul."
After tonight's third-straight home game the Bulldogs venture away from Humphrey Coliseum…a long way as they play Saturday at Utah State. Game time is 8:05 central with Bart Gregory handling the broadcast from Logan.