By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State absorbed another blow Tuesday night, but it delivered its fair share against Florida Atlantic.
Despite losing starting guard Jalen Steele early, the Bulldogs stormed to a 78-58 win in their home opener at Humphrey Coliseum, giving Rick Ray his first win as a head coach.
Roquez Johnson, who missed Friday’s loss to Troy with a concussion, led MSU (1-1) with a career-high 17 points.
Steele left the game with 10:37 left in the first half after taking a hard fall. He had eight stitches put in his head and went to the hospital for further evaluation.
That left MSU with seven available scholarship players.
Instead of falling apart without their top returning scorer, the Bulldogs went on a 13-2 run to open up a 29-16 lead. MSU led 43-26 at halftime.
“We were kind of down, but we used that to pick ourselves up and went harder and worked hard on defense and got the win,” said point guard Trivante Bloodman, who had seven assists.
FAU committed 27 turnovers, which led to 31 MSU points.
“We want to be a team that forces turnovers and hard to play against,” Ray said, “and once we get those turnovers or we get a defensive rebound, then we’re able to go out and push the basketball and get some things in transition.”
The Owls never made a run in the second half, and back-to-back layups by Johnson pushed MSU’s lead to 62-40.
Johnson made 7 of 11 shots on the night.
“I don’t design anything for him to end up in the paint, but he ends up down there, and he goes after loose balls,” Ray said. “He’s just an active body.”
Freshman Fred Thomas had 16 points on 6 of 12 shooting, including 3 of 7 from 3-point range, and five steals. Craig Sword had 11 points, while forward Gavin Ware added 10 points and some tough-nosed defense.
MSU shot 49.2 percent from the floor.