Rick Ray’s young basketball squad experienced two firsts this season.
Mississippi State went on its initial road trip of the season and tasted defeat 87-68 at the hands of Utah State after starting the year off with three straight wins.
“I’m obviously disappointed with the loss to Utah State but I thought it was beneficial to our team because we got a chance to play against a quality opponent in a hostile environment,” Ray said. “Obviously they are one the best teams in college basketball over the past decade. I think they’ve had the fifth-best record in college basketball over the last 10 years. Our guys needed that competition and needed to get humbled a little bit. They were starting fill themselves a little bit too much.”
Prior to Saturday, the Bulldogs had won six of their last eight games dating back to last season. With only two players on the roster with three years of experience at the Division-I level, Ray feels the loss might get his young players focus back.
“They’re kids and we’re still really inexperienced,” Ray said. “I think it was something that needed to be done. With the way last season went winning 10 games and the way we finished, I thought our guys had a positive vibe going into the off-season about our team. Then we came out and got a little bit of success and our guys got a little bit arrogant about who they really are. I thought it was really beneficial and I’m not surprised at all because they’re kids.”
Two areas have concerned Ray the most so far on the young season. MSU has struggled defensively allowing opponents to shoot 45.9-percent against them and are also surrendering 21.8 rebounds on that end of the floor.
However, one bright area offensively has been sophomore center Gavin Ware. The Starkville native had posted three double-doubles in four games this year and has double digit rebounds in all contests. Ware has nearly doubled his scoring and rebounding averages from a year ago putting up 16.5 points and pulling down 11.5 boards.
“Now there’s tape and evidence that he’s a double-double guy and a threat in the post and we’ve still been able to find him in the post,” Ray said. “I think it’s an attribute to Gavin continuing to work hard, seal and get post position but also our guys looking for him.”
Freshman point guard IJ Ready will miss several more games according to Ray after straining his hamstring in the second game of the season against Kennesaw State. Ready is expected to miss 2-4 weeks of action and the Bulldogs will use caution in bringing him back.
“He’s starting to jog and stretch but he’s nowhere near ready to play basketball yet,” Ray said.
Mississippi State returns to action Wednesday afternoon at 1 p.m. hosting instate opponent Jackson State. The Tigers are 2-4 on the year with both of those victories coming on the road at Air Force and Tennessee-Martin.
“I see a really disciplined basketball club,” Ray said. “They are not going to beat themselves. They are going to make you play contained basketball. They are really sound defensively and don’t give you anything in transition or layups. They are kind of soft in the way that they switch off and do some things trying to contain the dribbler and not let you get into the paint. You’re going to have to beat them because they’re not going to beat themselves.”
JSU is led by former Callaway head coach Wayne Brent in his first season with the Tigers. Their roster features former Arkansas transfer Julysses Nobles and former MSU recruit Treshawn Bolden. Both Nobles and Bolden played for Brent at Callaway High School.
“I think this is going to be a good game for us,” Ray said. “We’ve been playing teams and turning them over and turning defense into offense. I think against Jackson State we’re not going to be allowed to do that.”
Following Wednesday’s game, Ray will give his team a break to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with their families.
“Anytime that we can control our scheduling, I want to give our guys holidays off,” Ray said. “They’ll definitely get some time to get away on Thursday. We won’t practice and get a chance to get some turkey.”