Not only did Ware put up a still-young-career high in points, but hauled down eleven rebounds for a second double-double of the sophomore season. Getting big board numbers has been normal in the early season; scoring hasn't. Not because Ware was unwilling but lack of opportunity as the ball didn't come his way often enough to suit Ray. In last Friday's win over Kennesaw State, Ware took only four shots…and made them all.
So the gameplan was obvious this third time out. "That was something Coach stressed during pregame," Ware said. "The first play, Coach was like look high/low."
The ball did come down low and Ware came away with eleven official shots, eight of them for buckets; and other attempts negated on defensive fouls that sent him to the charity stripe where he was 7-of-11. Ware took his team's first three shots too, just as Coach Rick Ray ordered.
"Everybody was looking in the post, cutting and back-screening and getting Gavin open," guard Trivante Bloodman said.
"I thought we did a really good job trying to force-feed the ball in the post to Gavin," Ray said. "We ran the set play on the opening play and our guys executed. But Gavin did a great job posting."
For that matter so did forwards Colin Borchert and Rocquez Johnson, with 14 and 12 points respectively and nine combined rebounds. Not all their points came in the paint as Borchert stuck a pair of three pointers, both key in keeping second-half control. Half of Johnson's points came on free throws. But when Ware took his frequent breaks these forwards were able to operate against an often-overmatched Mississippi Valley lineup.
In fact, the Devils played into State's plans by starting a smaller lineup and saving their bigger bodies for rotation work. Ware liked what he saw and went to work immediately. "Just being on the boards, just getting buckets. They had smaller post guys and Coach (George) Brooks was talking about using that to your advantages. So I did."
With Ware scoring the first five points State jumped to leads of 13-4 and 19-8, and with 5:30 on the first-half clock held a healthy 30-17 advantage. "Coach talked about how we'd been coming out slow so we came out aggressive, got stops early and got in transition scoring baskets," Bloodman said. "
So we started out great."
It could have been greater had the Dogs been more accurate on the foul line, or played sharper defense. Instead the Devils stayed alive, barely, with daring drives at the lane that State players shied away from rather than draw too many fouls. That kept the margin 44-29 at the break.
Even when the home team made it a 15-point lead a minute into the new half there were some stumbles, such as G Craig Sword drawing a technical foul and being benched. Valley State clawed with 52-43 by 15:14, aided by unforced Bulldog turnovers. Fortunately Borchert had some momentum-stemming outside shots that made sure no serious comeback began.
And Ware went back to work even harder, scoring seven-straight points and rebounding so Bloodman could get a layup for a 75-58 difference. This deflated the Devils sufficiently for State to stretch their lead to as much as 27 points.
Sword still joined the double-digits list with ten points in his 13 minutes, while guards Bloodman and Fred Thomas added eight points apiece. Backup forward Dre Applewhite had a quietly-consistent night of nine points and seven boards in just 20 minutes of work.
Guard DeAngelo Prior paced the Devils with 19 points, while guard Anthony McDonald scored 12 with a pair of treys and forward James Currington ten points. The bigger Bulldogs came away with a 47-21 rebounding advantage, much better than last Friday.
Ray wasn't entirely satisfied, though. "Their field goal percentage is way too high, they shot 45% in the first half and in the second half 50%. They have some quick little waterbugs that are tough to stay with, and we put ourselves in a bind because we help so much." And while the Bulldogs cut down on turnovers with 11 and coaxed Valley into 18 giveaways, Ray thought his defenders had gambled a bit more than necessary.
Still, 52% shooting overall and taking only tries from the trey-lane, with five makes, showed the Dogs got their coach's word…and got the ball to Ware, who was more open than ever as Valley stuck to man-defense rather than switching zones and such.
3-0 is as good a start as State could obviously ask. Now, though, "We put this game behind us and move on, because we know the next game is in a good environment and a good team," said Bloodman. That game is at Utah State this Saturday, with a 8:00(ct) scheduled tip in Logan.
"This will be a true test against Utah State," said Ware. His coach agrees, though he makes no big deal of venturing away from home for the first time. Ray said he doesn't want to talk about any difference in playing home or road at this point. "It's basketball, let's go play."