UNLV preview

Dre Applewhite has started four straight games for the Bulldogs. (Lauren Wood/ Daily Journal)

Dre Applewhite has started four straight games for the Bulldogs. (Lauren Wood/ Daily Journal)

Mississippi State has a chance to hoist its first trophy of the Rick Ray era tonight in the championship game of the Las Vegas Classic.

The Bulldogs take on host UNLV at 9:30 p.m. CT in the title game from New Orleans Arena. The tournament also featured Radford, Sacred Heart, Florida Gulf Coast, Florida A&M, South Florida and Santa Clara.

MSU is vying for its 19th in-season tournament title and first since winning the 2011 2K Sports Classic in New York. The Bulldogs are now 88-76 all-time in in-season tournament play.

UNLV won the only meeting between the two programs 75-67 during the 1980 Las Vegas Classic.

The Bulldogs are 4-5 against teams from the Mountain West Conference after falling 87-68 at Utah State earlier this season.

State is off to a 9-2 start to the season having won four straight. The Bulldogs held off South Florida 71-66 Sunday night to advance to the championship game. Sophomore wing Fred Thomas led MSU with 14 points in 28 minutes off the bench by draining four 3-pointers. Sophomore center Gavin Ware also collected his fourth double-double of the year with 10 points and 15 rebounds.

Mississippi State is just one win shy of its total for the 2012-13 season.

Ray’s squad is shooting 45.9-percent from the field and averaging 70.7 points per game. The Bulldogs are hitting 30.7-percent from 3-point range and 63-percent from the free throw line. MSU’s opponents are scoring 64.3 points on 42.7-pecent shooting. They lead the Southeastern Conference with 9.9 steals an outing which ranks eighth nationally.

Sophomore shooting guard Craig Sword continues to lead MSU with 15 points and is fifth in the league with 1.9 steals per game. Sword is joined in the backcourt by true freshman point guard I.J. Ready adding 7.6 points and 3.6 assists after dishing out a career-high seven against USF on Sunday. Redshirt freshman wing Dre Applewhite is contributing 5.8 points.

Ware is putting up 10.6 points and pulling down 8.7 boards while senior forward Colin Borchert is averaging 8.8 points and 3.9 rebounds.

UNLV (7-4) has also won four straight games including a 92-71 victory over Santa Clara Sunday night. Former Mississippi State point guard Deville Smith led the Rebels with 21 points in 29 minutes off the bench. Smith played in 26 games as a freshman for the Bulldogs averaging 4.2 points and 13 minutes per game. He transferred to Southwest Community College last season.

In his third year at the helm, Dave Rice’s roster is shooting 45.8-percent from the floor and scoring 74.1 points a game. UNLV is knocking down 33.1-percent of its shots from the outside and 61.9-percent of its free throws. The Rebels opposition is scoring 63.9 points on 38.6-percent shooting.

Junior forward Roscoe Smith (6-8, 215) leads UNLV with 12.8 points and 13.2 rebounds per game. Smith is joined in the frontcourt by freshman forward Christian Wood (6-10, 210), who was a high school teammate of MSU’s Fallou Ndoye at Findlay Prep. Wood is putting up five points and 3.6 rebounds per game.

Senior guard Kevin Olekaibe (6-2, 180), a Fresno State transfer, is scoring 9.9 points while freshman guard Kendall Smith (6-2, 180) is adding 6.9 points. Former Ole Miss transfer Jelan Kendrick (6-6, 210), now a junior and former McDonald’s High School All-American, rounds out the starting five chipping in 8.5 points a contest.

Tonight’s game will be televised on CBS Sports Network with Brent Stover, Steve Lappas and Doug Gotlieb on the call.

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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