By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – Florida Gulf Coast was the Cinderella story during last year’s NCAA Tournament becoming the first ever 15-seed to advance to the Sweet 16.
But the slipper did not fit Thursday night in Starkville, as Mississippi State upended FGCU 66-53 to improve to 8-2 on the year.
“I thought this was a really good win for our ball club against a quality opponent,” said MSU coach Rick Ray. “I thought it was our best defensive effort this year and was the best we’ve played as a team since South Carolina and Ole Miss last year.”
The Bulldogs shot 46 percent from the field and had five scorers in double figures. Craig Sword paced all scorers with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
I.J. Ready added 12 points and five steals while Gavin Ware and Roquez Johnson each chipped in 10 points down low.
Fred Thomas also finished with 10 points, including three 3-pointers. Thomas had not hit a shot from behind the arc since Dec. 1 against Loyola, going 0-of-10 over that span until Thursday.
“I’ve just been trying to build my confidence back up,” Thomas said.
Mississippi State held a 32-24 lead at halftime behind eight points from Sword. It was the second lowest point total scored by the Eagles in the first half this season.
Florida Gulf Coast (5-6) shot 45.7-percent on the evening but were just 3-of-18 from the outside. The Eagles also committed 21 turnovers.
Brett Comer led FGCU with 15 points. Chase Fieler added 11 points and Bernard Thompson chipped in 10.
“Coach told us they’re known as ‘Dunk City’ and they really feed off their dunks,” Thomas said. “Our goal was for them to not have any dunks and they didn’t.”
2013 signee Travis Daniels failed to qualify academically for the fall semester but was in warm-ups on the Bulldogs bench Thursday night.
The 6-foot-8, 205-pounder signed with MSU last November after leading Shelton State to the Alabama Community College Conference Championship. Daniels averaged 11.9 points and 7.2 rebounds a game as a sophomore.
Daniels will begin practicing with the team on Dec. 28 when the team returns from the Las Vegas Classic this weekend but will be redshirt this season.
The Bulldogs take on South Florida on Sunday at 7 p.m. and either UNLV or Santa Clara on Monday.