By Paul Jones
Special to the Journal
STARKVILLE – Throughout Rick Ray’s initial season at Mississippi State, the Bulldogs struggled to make shots and generate a lot of offense at times.
In Sunday’s 86-57 exhibition win over Auburn-Montgomery, Ray and his squad appeared to be more at home and comfortable with the motion offense.
Led by Colin Borchert’s game-high 23 points, MSU shot 51.7 percent from the floor and also made 6-of-14 beyond the arc to roll to an easy victory at Humphrey Coliseum.
“I think that is one thing we’ve tried to work on as a team, not trying to press the issue,” Ray said. “Just letting the offense happen. The thing I want our guys to do is make plays but not force plays and there is a big difference.”
Craig Sword and Dre Applewhite each had 12 points for the Bulldogs while Gavin Ware finished with 10 points and a game-high 12 boards.
MSU enjoyed a 42-31 edge in rebounds and also forced 20 turnovers.
“Really pleased with the way Colin Borchert played,” Ray said. “He took good shots, played through the offense and didn’t force anything. I am happy with the way Andre Applewhite came off the bench and played with some energy and played within the flow of the game.”
Borchert was 8-of-9 from the field and 2-of-2 beyond the arc and added six rebounds and three blocked shots.
“The way we play, the point guard position will always be the most important position on the floor,” Ray said. “But the second-most important position is that skilled 4 and I think Colin has really good grasp of our offense and he needs to be that skilled guy and know what’s going on.”
Down the stretch last season, Borchert was one of MSU’s most consistent players and he’s maintaining that momentum.
“I think it is just confidence,” Borchert said. “Last year I came out fine, but I missed some shots and my confidence went from a 100 to 32 quick. Then I started to hit shots and it carries over to this year.”
Sword mostly played the point guard position as a freshman. But with the addition of rookie I.J. Ready and junior Trivante Bloodman back at point guard, Sword was strictly at shooting guard on Sunday and was 6 of 10 from the floor with four assists and just one turnover.
“That’s gonna help us out a lot,” Sword said. “Now we’ve got two people that can handle the ball and can see the play.”
MSU opens the regular season Friday at home against Prairie View A&M in a 7 p.m. tipoff.
(W) Ole Miss 74, Christian Brothers 59: The Rebels picked up the exhibition victory in their first outing for new head coach Matt Insell.
Valencia McFarland led the Rebels with 15 points, while Tia Faleru added 13 points and 14 rebounds.
Ole Miss opens the season at home on Friday at 5 p.m. against Jacksonville State.