Ware overpowered Texas Southern with 19 points and ten rebounds leading the Bulldogs to an 86-73 win. This third-straight victory raised State (4-3) over break-even ahead of a couple of tough road tests next week.
“Let’s pray for more double-doubles,” Bulldog Coach Ben Howland said.
That should be a regular request of Mississippi State fans. Or if not getting in double-digits all the time, if Ware can be this efficient each evening the Bulldogs will be in good shape. The senior postman made 8 of his 11 shots and was perfect on three free throw chances. He also blocked three Tiger shots and managed to draw just two fouls in a game-high 35 minutes.
Howland saw some other aspects, though. “And he has just one turnover and two assists.”
The big Dog wasn’t the top swatter, though. Wingman Craig Sword blocked four TSU attempts, while scoring 16 points on the other end with a couple of treys. Sword said he had a little extra motivation provided by Howland in pre-game.
“Coach told me #23 was more athletic than I was. I didn’t think so.”
That #23 was Derrick Griffin, and if not more athletic than State’s Sword the Tiger football player was at least equal. Having joined the TSU roster just two days ago, Griffin put on an even better show statistically than Ware with 19 points and 12 rebounds. He got lots of help from the rest of the frontcourt as forwards Chris Thomas and Malcolm Riley each provided 15 points and eleven combined boards.
Texas Southern left 1-6. That record belied the challenge Coach Mike Davis’ squad brought to Humphrey Coliseum. The Tigers threw some twists at State schematically during the evening, as well as the new player. “That team has won their conference three times in a row,” Howland said. “They’re good.”
Good enough to take the early lead by making six of the first seven shots, usually slashing past Bulldog man defense and directly to the rim. There Ware, conscious of foul troubles, picked his spots to challenge shots seriously at first.
So the Tigers built a 19-14 lead, while the home team was missing eight of the first 13 tries. Once Mississippi State found both the range and a rhythm the game changed. Three-pointers by forward Johnny Zuppardo and guard Fred Thomas put MSU in front 22-21, and the Dogs led 45-37 at halftime mostly on making seven treys.
“Coach emphasized getting the ball in high post and me or Gavin, just kick it out,” forward Travis Daniels said. “Our guards would knock it down.”
The Tigers tried adjusting which opened room for Sword to attack, scoring seven points in a stretch as State’s lead grew to 52-39 by 17:00. Having been stopped on five-straight possessions Texas Southern called for time and changed lineups to go all-guards. It might not have mattered, Howland thought, if his team had not taken a quick trey (Sword) with that big lead. “It disappears on a horrible shot, insteady of understanding we had them on the ropes.”
Going with the small lineup helped the Tigers rally as it was not a good matchup for State. “It’s not something our guys are used to,” Howland said. By 6:43 the margin was down to 69-65, with TSU rebounding a Thomas miss.
Ware forced Jose Rodgriguez to miss a short jumper, guard IJ Ready rebounded and finished the fastbreak himself at 5:26. Next time down it was Ready again with an aggressive drive and looper for the eight-point lead to keep State in control.
Daniels had 18 points to complement Ware, hitting both his trey-tries. Ready did not start due to what Howland called a violation of team rules, but played 28 minutes to score 11 points with three assists. Freshman guard Quindarry Weatherspoon got his first college start as a result. Suspended forward Demetrius Houston did not play for a sixth-straight game. Football quarterback Elijah Staley was dressed out for the first time since the season ended, but did not have to play this time.
The Bulldogs are home for the next eight or days, though Howland said with fall semester exams ahead not every day will be spent practicing. Next action is December 12 at Missouri-Kansas City.