Previewing Mississippi State

Three games in three days on the island of Maui. The Tar Heels open their Maui Invitational on Monday at the Lahaina Civic Center against Mississippi State. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:00 EST and will be televised by ESPN2.

North Carolina (3-0) vs. Mississippi State (1-1)
Lahaina, Hawaii -- Lahaina Civic Center (2,400)
Monday, 6:00 p.m. EST
ESPN2 (Dave O'Brien, Jimmy Dykes)


"This is the way we want to play. We want to be a team that forces a lot of turnovers and that's hard to play against. Once we get those turnovers or defensive stops, then we are able to go out and push the basketball and get some things in transition. The key to us being better offensively is getting those stops defensively because then you don't have to worry about what type of offense we're in. We can just go push the ball and make plays." -- MSU head coach Rick Ray following his team's win over Florida Atlantic on Tuesday.

"They are just a name. They gotta suit up just like we do, and they gotta come out and play just like we do." -- MSU freshman Gavin Ware on North Carolina


Season to Date: Mississippi State enters Monday's opening round game of the Maui Invitational with a 1-1 record. The Bulldogs dropped their season opener at Troy, 56-53, on Nov. 9 before responding with a 78-58 victory over FAU on Tuesday. The win over the Owls was the first career victory for new head coach Rick Ray.

Decimated by Injuries and Suspension: Ray has been dealt a brutal hand since taking the job in Starkville. It was bad enough that Mississippi State only returned three scholarship players from last season's 21-win team, but a trio of injuries and a suspension have whittled the Bulldogs' scholarship total in Maui to just six. Freshmen Jacoby Davis and DeAndre Applewhite are out for the season after tearing their ACLs, while junior returning starter Jalen Steele fractured his left wrist in the win over FAU and will be out six weeks. MSU also announced on Wednesday that starting forward Colin Borchert has been suspended for a violation of team rules.

What's Left:With Steele and Borchert out of the starting lineup, Ray will have to rely on a trio of underclassmen to carry the load. Freshman guard Fred Thomas and sophomore point Trivante Bloodman have been solid in their first two starts, averaging 10 points each, while sophomore forward Roquez Johnson exploded for a career-high 17 points against FAU after missing the opener with a concussion. Freshman forward Gavin Ware has been effective off the bench, averaging 10 points and 6.0 rebounds.

Defensive Intensity:While scoring has been an issue, the Bulldogs have played tough defensively. Ray's squad ranks second in the SEC in steals (11.0) and turnovers forced (19.5), third in points allowed (57.0) and fifth in field goal percentage defense (34.7). MSU forced 27 turnovers in its win over FAU, marking the most for the school since New Orleans committed 32 turnovers in December 1996.

Statistical Disadvantage: Mississippi State owns a minus-1.5 rebounding margin mark this season, compared with North Carolina's plus-17.3 edge.

Last Meeting: North Carolina defeated Mississippi State, 76-74, in the NIT second round on Mar. 20, 2010 in Starkville. Larry Drew drove to the basket and scored over three-time SEC defensive player of the year Jarvis Varnado with two seconds left to lift UNC to victory. Will Graves led UNC with 17 points, while John Henson added 12 points and eight rebounds.

Series History: UNC leads the all-time series with MSU, 5-0. The Tar Heels have won the five games by an average of 11.2 points.

Projected Starters:
4 Trivante Bloodman (6-0, 182, So.) - 10.0 ppg, 4.0 apg
1 Fred Thomas (6-5, 191, Fr.) - 10.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg
32 Craig Sword (6-3, 189, Fr.) - 6.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg
25 Roquez Johnson (6-7, 210, So.) - 17.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg
5 Wendell Lewis (6-9, 258, Sr.) - 5.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg

Top Reserves:
20 Gavin Ware (6-9, 270, Fr.) - 10.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg
24 Tyson Cunningham (6-3, 194, Jr.) - 1.0 ppg, 2.0 apg

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(Photos by US Presswire)

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