MSU rang in the New Year's with a 97-46 dismantling of New Orleans Thursday night in Humphrey Coliseum. The Bulldogs will carry a 5-7 mark into Wednesday's night conference opener at home against South Carolina.
For MSU, the victory was an important bounce-back as the Maroon and White hit the floor for the first time since Sunday's 59-57 loss to Alabama A&M.
"This was a good win for us on several fronts," Ray said. "We had to come back from the public embarrassment of the loss to Alabama A&M. That can be difficult to do at times. The thing about the loss to Alabama A&M is that we played our best basketball for the first 15 minutes of the game. Tonight, we were able to keep that up throughout the game."
The Bulldogs shot a season-best 56.1 percent from the field, while scoring the most points in a game this season and also winning by the largest margin in a game this season. The Bulldogs scored the game's first 12 points of the contest and were never threatened.
"Our goal coming into this game was to finish," MSU junior guard Jalen Steele said. "Against Alabama A&M, we had a lead ad we slacked off. We lost the intensity. This game, we wanted to go out and play hard the entire game. I thought we did a good job of keeping our focus the entire game."
A 3-point basket by Colin Borchert capped the Bulldogs' game-opening 12-0 run. After UNO scored a pair of quick baskets, the Bulldogs range the advantage to 21-4 on a Fred Thomas dunk with 11:05 left in the half.
Thomas worked his way out of his recent shooting slump, by scoring 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Thomas also had three rebounds, two blocked shots and a steal in 28 minutes of work. For Thomas, it was his seventh contest in double figures this season.
"Coach told me that I was taking good shots so to continue shooting," Thomas said. "It felt really good to get the first couple to go down. I felt more in the flow of the offense."
The Bulldogs had several in the flow as a 6-0 run pushed the advantage to 35-11 with 6:23 left in the half. A layup by Roquez Johnson capped that run. The Bulldogs had 17 first-half field goals and led 43-16 at halftime.
In the Alabama A&M defeat, the Bulldogs saw an eight-point halftime lead slip away. On this night, UNO started the second half on a 5-0 run before a quick MSU timeout.
"We told the guys they could play some really good basketball," Ray said. "Or they could go out and make this much harder than they needed to."
Following the timeout, the Bulldogs responded with an 18-2 run. A 10-0 run pushed the lead to 84-47 with slightly more than six minutes left in regulation time.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 35 of 62 shots from the field (56.5 percent), 11 of 21 shots from 3-point range (52.4 percent) and 16 of 20 shots from the foul line (80.0 percent). The Privateers hit 17 of 51 shots from the field (33.3 percent), 1 of 8 shots from 3-point range (12.5 percent) and 11 of 21 shots from the foul line (52.4 percent).
MSU held a 40-27 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 17 assists and 17 turnovers, while the Privateers had seven assists and 23 turnovers.
Borchert led MSU with 17 points. Steele and Thomas each added 16 points, while Johnson added 14 points. Gavin Ware finished with 10 points, while falling two rebounds shy of a third straight double-double.
Lovell Cook and Kevin Hill led UNO with seven points apiece.
The Bulldogs begin conference play with the Gamecocks in a 7 p.m. start Wednesday in the Humphrey Coliseum. The game will be available nationally on ESPN3.
"We know (beginning conference play) is a big challenge," Ware said. "The main thing is working hard and getting better. We know we have each other. We are going to have count on each other a lot to make it through."