By David Brandt/The Associated Press
JACKSON — Freshman Gavin Ware scored a career-high 22 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead Mississippi State to a 79-72 win over Central Arkansas on Saturday.
The 6-foot-9 Ware was unstoppable in the paint, making 8 of 9 shots from the field, 6 of 8 free throws and grabbing four offensive rebounds. Trivante Bloodman scored 12, Colin Borchert 11 and walk-on Tyson Cunningham added 10 points, including two 3-pointers in the second half that helped the Bulldogs (4-6) pull away.
Mississippi State won for just the third time in eight games. The Bulldogs dominated on the glass, outrebounding the Bears 43-29. They also shot 48.1 percent (25 of 52) from the field.
Central Arkansas (4-5) has lost two in a row. The Bears were led by Robert Crawford’s 26 points. Jordan Harks and Jarvis Garner added 11.
Mississippi State has had a rough start to the season thanks to a fairly difficult schedule and a roster that’s down to six scholarship players after injuries to four — including starters Jalen Steele and Wendell Lewis.
So it was encouraging for the Bulldogs to see some of the remaining healthy players — like Ware — show some improvement before Southeastern Conference play begins in a few weeks. Ware could be one of the cornerstones of Ray’s rebuilding project, with a wide body, soft hands and knack for finding good position and scoring at the rim.
The 270-pounder from Starkville, Miss., hit a few shots early and then the plan became obvious — feed him the ball whenever possible. The Bears didn’t have anyone big enough to stop him.
While Ware was dominating inside, the Bulldogs got some surprising help on the perimeter from Cunningham, a junior walk-on who has been forced into the regular rotation because of the constant injures.
He came into the game averaging just 1.7 points per game, but nailed two crucial 3-pointers in the second half that helped Mississippi State push out to a 60-49 lead with nine minutes remaining.
Central Arkansas could never make a serious run after that point.
Crawford tried to keep the Bears in the game, making 8 of 18 shots from the field, including 7 of 14 from 3-point range. But outside of Crawford, Central Arkansas shot just 3 of 21 from 3-point range and shot just 11 free throws compared to Mississippi State’s 36 attempts.
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