By Paul Jones/Special to the Journal
STARKVILLE – For the first time in his brief tenure at Mississippi State, head coach Rick Ray enjoyed a breather.
His Bulldogs managed to put together a solid 40 minutes also for the first time in Ray’s debut season and rolled Division I independent New Orleans 97-46 Thursday night at Humphrey Coliseum.
But the blowout victory was also a learning experience. Three days earlier, the Bulldogs (5-7) let a big lead escape them in a loss to Alabama A&M – but that wasn’t the case against the Privateers (3-9).
It was the Bulldogs’ final non-conference game of the season, as SEC play starts next Wednesday at home against South Carolina.
“This was a good win for us on a lot of front,” said Ray. “We had to get over the public embarrassment of losing at home to Alabama A&M. I was embarrassed about losing to Alabama A&M and I know our players felt the same way so I told them we had to find a way to get better from this.
“It was good for our guys to come out and play this way and show themselves and other people that they’ve made improvements as a basketball team.”
Colin Borchert had a career-best 17 points to lead five MSU players in double digits. Jalen Steele and Fred Thomas each had 16 points while Roquez Johnson and Gavin Ware had 14 and 10 points, respectively.
The Bulldogs shot 51.5 percent in the opening half, including 4-of-9 beyond the arc, and rolled up a 43-16 halftime advantage. Defensively, MSU held the visiting Privateers to just 25.9 percent shooting in the first half.
solid first half
Unlike Sunday’s shocking loss, this time the Bulldogs made a solid first-half lead hold up the remainder of the way.
“We put more emphasis on finishing the game this time,” said Steele, who has now made 27 straight free throw attempts. “The first eight minutes of the Alabama A&M game we were going hard and then we just slacked off. This game we completed it and kept it up in the second half. We kept up the momentum and the intensity in the second half.”
MSU finished with a season-best 56.5 percentage from the floor, including a season-most 11 three-pointers made, and were 16-of-20 from the charity stripe. MSU held UNO to just 33 percent from the floor and also dominated the glass 40-27.
MSU also posted a season high in points, blocked shots (9) and steals (14).
“We’ve been coming in twice a day (shooting),” said Ray. “We always practice and then bring those guys back to shoot free throws and do what we call ‘Bulldog shooting’, which is shoot two’s and three’s to where they up at least 200 shots with each session. With those guys not being in school, we had to take advantage of getting some (extra) shooting done.”
“I think I gained some confidence,” said Thomas, who was 6 of 13 from the field. “Coach has been saying I have been taking good shots the past few games but just wasn’t making them. So I’ve been working at getting to the middle of the floor and then bring it back out.”