Bouncing back from a Wednesday knee bruise, the Mississippi State center netted a dozen points and nine rebounds in a 69-59 win over visiting Tulane. It was no shabby show for a fellow who didn’t practice at all Friday and was questionable an hour before tipoff.
“Just anything I could do,” Ware said.
He did lots to make sure both teams left Humphrey Coliseum with .500 records. The Bulldogs were much happier at 5-5 of course, while 6-6 Tulane wondered how this one got away. The Green Wave led 54-45 at 11:22 of the second half and seemed about to take control. That was Coach Ben Howland’s concern.
“What makes me most proud of this group is to not drop their heads and fight back,” Howland said.
“The story of the game is falling down by nine, a 15-point differential, and clawing our way back to a 10-point win. We’re getting tougher.”
Ware certainly did. A second-half knee collision at Florida State proved a lateral bruise, nothing worse, but was enough to make State plan around not having their senior center. Howland watched Ware do some mid-morning work after team meal that got hopes up.
But it wasn’t until warm-ups Ware felt he could contribute. “I had a couple of shooting drills and did some ball screens. I just came in and provided energy, I was going to execute plays, block out and rebound, and be help side.”
It wasn’t just the knee that concerned State. Howland said Ware has had issues with his glasses fogging during games, so he suggested a change to contacts. The end result was clear. “He’s a good looking kid!” Howland joked.
Seriously though, “I really thougth Gavin showed a lot of heart and a lot of toughness to show up and play today.”
Ware wasn’t top Dog in scoring. Freshman guard Malik Newman led with 15 points, most of it in a crucial first-half shooting stretch that kept Mississippi State in contention. Guard Craig Sword added 14 more. But it was Ware’s work off the bench and in the post which gave State’s best chance to succeed.
Howland started the small lineup with forward Travis Daniels in the post and four guards against a Tulane team with some size and smart ball movement in the paint. The Green Wave used that to attack inside for shots and second-chance points. Newman probably saved the day by sticking three treys in five minutes with a fourth longball from guard Fred Thomas.
“I had a great shootaround and was feeling comfortable,” said Newman. “And my teammates did a great job finding me.”
With two fast fouls Ware still could only get nine minutes in the first half. So it was up to Daniels and more so forward Johnny Zuppardo to hold down the post. They did a good enough job, too, with Zuppardo playing the better defense and coming down with much-needed rebounds. This helped State build a 40-34 halftime lead.
“I thought we played a good first half, I thought Malik had his best half of the year,” Howland said.
The second half was a whole ‘nother story. The Bulldogs cooled down in energy and shooting alike, missing 11 of the first 12 shots. Tulane’s zone was an issue on that end; on the other athletic forward Dylan Osetkowski got the ball in easy scoring positions. Howland had tried switching from first-half zone to his preferred man defense, but “we continued to be scored on. We switched back to our zone.”
It worked better this time. Tulane began settling for quick outside shots and quick misses. They ended up just 4-of-24 at the arc. “We were glad about that!” Howland said. It helped too how the Green Wave went cold on their free throw line in the second half.
What made MSU more glad was freshman guard Quindarry Weatherspoon’s three shots in a row, two good, to regain the lead at 55-54. The Bulldogs went on a true tear of 15-0 capped by Sword’s steal and-stuff for a 60-54 lead. Even after Tulane did snap the streak, Thomas responded with a trey to keep the momentum.
Osetkowski led all scorers with 20 points and had eight rebounds with a block. Guard Malik Morgan added 11 points and ten boards. Much of MSU’s margin came at the foul line with 20-of-26 accuracy as aggressive drives from Sword and Newman drew personals. And by Howland’s count, Tulane had been shooting around 70% when they were leading by nine. They finished at 41%.
“We called a timeout and got everybody situated,” Newman said of crunch time.
After consecutive road losses, winning on the home court was a boost the Bulldogs needed. Next week they’ll leave the Hump but only go as far as Jackson, hosting Northern Colorado in the Mississippi Coliseum (7:00).