Dogs Show Defense In Exhibition Win

The offense will likely be a work-in-progress all winter. But these Bulldogs will begin their upcoming season with loads of confidence about the defensive end of things.

Mississippi State dominated Delta State 72-51 in exhibition play Thursday evening at Humphrey Coliseum. The Bulldogs obviously out-scored their Gulf South Conference guests, and out-shot them as well. What pleased them more was work on the stopping-end of the home court.

“That’s what we harp on every day in practice,” G Fred Thomas said. “Defense, defense, defense. The offense will come.”

It came early and strong. Mississippi State held the Statesmen to 26% first-half shooting…and that was when shots were even attempted. Delta State had three times as many turnovers at halftime as made baskets and trailed 37-16.

For the full contest State allowed 17 Statesmen goals against 25 turnovers, most of them forced and the rest influenced. After some encouraging scrimmages, Coach Rick Ray was pleased with the work against a real opponent. Even one from a lower-Division program.

”Obviously it was good for our guys to play a different opponent,” third-year coach Ray said. “I thought our guys came out with a great intensity on the defensive end in the first half, and that carried over to the offensive end.

Three Bulldogs did ride the momentum from end to end, led by C Gavin Ware. The junior set a stout example inside but also mixed in some sharp mid-range shooting for a team-best 19 points. “A new and improved Gavin Ware,” he said. “More in-shape, more able to help my team be successful in the long run.” Or on longer shots than just power-move layups for that matter as Ware hit from 15 feet and better when Statesmen posts didn’t follow him from the lane.

”Actually I had it last year,” Ware said of the jumper. “Just a few shots. This year our offense is more pick-and-pop, pick-and-dive. If I can use that when the big guys are in, I’ll use it.”

Good as this news was for Bulldog fans hoping for bigger things this season, greater encouragement was provided by redshirted C Fallou Ndoye with 11 points; and freshman F Demetrius Houston with 12. State got 36 total points from newcomers and played nine scholarship Dogs; last year there were only eight to work with. And tonight’s tally did not include G Craig Sword or PG I.J. Ready who are both sidelined after pre-season surgeries. Each is expected back this semester, junior Sword as soon as this month.

Senior PG Trivante Bloodman, the only available scholarship quarterback, ran point for a team-most 26 minutes with five assists. It would have been more but after a second-half banker went in Bloodman limped back the other direction. Ray said it was nothing of concern and anyway, “Trivante is always getting hurt in practices and games.” Freshman G Maurice Dunlap went out late with cramps.

Still when Bloodman went out in the second half it showed on the offensive end as State sputtered to find the same shots and ball movement. This also indicated how freely Ray was rotating so many new players. At the same time the Statesmen finally got some clue to the Bulldog pressure and took a little better care of the ball.

This let guard Devin Schmidt, the team’s second-leading scorer last season at 15.1 points, account for just under half his team’s points with a game-best 25. Schmidt hit four treys but was 9-of-21 overall as State basically forced the Statesmen to take longer shots than they liked. The rest of the team was 8-of-25.

“Obviously between the nerves, their length and athleticism, we were taken aback early in the game,” Delta State Coach Jim Boone said. In the second half “We did a better job taking care of the basketball. They didn’t press us as much but I thought our guys did a good job solving the press at the end of the first half.”

Well, not that good. State was not just pressing but often jumping at halfcourt for traps to force turnovers. In both halves the Bulldogs created 10-second counts as well as shot clock violations. Delta State did not get a basket of any sort until 13:37 of the first half and trailed as much as 22 in the period. The largest lead was 43-18 early in the second half.

Ray wasn’t happy that Schmidt scorched the nets for 25. “When you focus on somebody they shouldn’t go off like that. And the other thing was they shot 48% in the second half. We have to keep the intensity up.” The coach really thought the letdown on defense was more from having a big lead and guys starting to think more about scoring in their first real game.

That oughtn’t be an issue in coming games. Because these Dogs really do enjoy the 94-foot style Ray wants to play in year-three. Not only are the numbers there, but the athleticism too.

”Collectively we’ve got a team now so you can play your hardest,” said Thomas, key man to the pressure approach.

Mississippi State opens the real schedule in another week, hosting Western Carolina on November 14 with a 5:30 tip. The Statesmen go right to Oxford for another SEC exhibition.

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