Positive outlook for Ray after opening win

Rick Ray has a winning record for the first time in his career. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Rick Ray has a winning record for the first time in his career. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Unlike last year, Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray was able to start the season with a win.

The Bulldogs downed Prairie View A&M 71-56 in Starkville on Friday. MSU dominated the Panthers on the glass outrebounding them by 24 in the contest but still struggled with 21 turnovers.

“It was a good win for our team against Prairie View A&M,” Ray said. “It was a positive to go out and play somebody and kind of get a gauge of where your team is. I was really pleased with the one weakness that we had last year – rebounding. Obviously we rebounded the ball very well but the bad part about that is we rebounded a lot of our own shots. We need to address taking care of the basketball.”

Ray and the Bulldogs get their second opportunity of the year tonight hosting Kennesaw State at 7 p.m. The Owls enter tonight’s game at 1-3 having played four consecutive days from Friday through Monday.

Kennesaw State dropped its first three games to Youngstown State (73-57), Eastern Kentucky (68-60) and Florida International (66-58) before finally claiming its first win 92-48 over Warren Wilson.

“The one thing that jumps out to you about Kennesaw State from the very beginning is they’re an athletic team,” Ray said. “Their wings are 6-5 to 6-7 and then they have a 6-10, 240-pound kid (Willy Kouassi) who originally started off at Auburn. Guys like that at the center spot with length and girth give Gavin Ware problems. They have a multitude of guys who are bigger and taller.”

The Bulldogs will have the benefit of having sophomore wing Fred Thomas back for Thursday’s game. Thomas missed the opener last Friday serving an NCAA mandated one-game suspension for participating in a charity game over the summer.

“That was just a one-game deal,” Ray said. “Most of the time when you play in an unsanctioned event, it’s usually a game-for-game basis. Since it was just one All-Star game they gave him one game. Fred Thomas is cleared and ready to go.”

However, redshirt freshman point guard Jacoby Davis will miss tonight’s game while still recovering from a knee injury that kept him out all season.

Ray stated that Davis began practicing against contact this week and could make his collegiate debut as early as next week.

Freshman walk-on guard Dallas Prater is out with mononucleosis but is eligible this semester whereas most of the other walk-ons will not be able to participate in games until January.

On Wednesday, Ray signed three players – center Oliver Black of IMG (Fla.) Academy, shooting guard Maurice Dunlap of Amanda Elzy and small forward Demetrius Houston of Carver (Ala.) High School.

The Bulldogs anticipate having Marietta, Ga., power forward Elijah Staley a part of its team next season as well. Staley is committed to Dan Mullen’s football program as well and is expected to sign a national letter of intent with the Bulldogs in that sport.

“We want to recruit guys that hate to lose and love to win,” Ray said. “That was the thing we wanted first and foremost. You need to get guys who can continuously make shots and we wanted to makes sure we were recruiting guys with the skill level to make shots but also dribble and pass the basketball too. You can’t ignore athleticism. You have to make sure you’re taking care and addressing that need too.

“We wanted kids who are interesting in working on their game and getting better. I think we put an inordinate amount of time on individual development in our program but if you don’t want to work and have positive work habits, you won’t get better as a basketball player. I think the intangible things you want first because you can make a kid better if he’s willing to work.”

I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.

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