The Bulldogs shot 49 percent from the floor, forced 27 turnovers and led by as many as 30 points. It all led up to a successful home debut for new head coach Rick Ray as Mississippi State routed Florida Atlantic 78-58 in an opening-round game of the Maui Invitational.
"I was pleased with the effort," Ray said. "This is the kind of effort we wanted. Defensively, we forced a lot of turnovers and took Florida Atlantic out of a rhythm. When we get turnovers, it allows us to have more fast-break opportunities. We did a good job of attacking the rim."
MSU actually played most of the contest without junior guard Jalen Steele. Steele suffered a head injury that required eight stitches on a blocked shot midway through the first half. Still, the spirited and youthful Bulldogs hung tough and took a second-straight win from the Owls.
"Jalen is one of our leaders," Ray said. "The other players look up to him. It was a big blow, but I am really proud at how the other players stepped it up. It meant a lot to play well without him."
Florida Atlantic enjoyed only one lead in the contest. The Bulldogs battled back on top for good at 16-14 on a basket by Wendell Lewis. Steele was injured on the game's next possession.
Still, the Bulldogs energized the home crowd with a 15-2 run, fueled in large part to defensive mastery. Trivante Bloodman hit a layup and Gavin Ware followed with a master dunk. A dunk by Craig Sword preceded two Bloodman free throws, which ran the advantage to 29-16 with 6:56 left before halftime.
The Bulldogs shot 53.1 percent from the field in the opening half and led 43-26 at halftime.
"We wanted to come out and set the tempo," Bloodman said. "Defensively, we did what we had to do. Offensively, we had some good ball movement. My job is to get as many players as possible involved and to distribute the ball."
The Owls closed within 12 points on two different occasions early in the second half. After a 3-point by FAU's Stefan Moody cut the deficit to 50-38, MSU responded with a 12-2 run effectively putting the game out of reach.
"We thought Florida Atlantic was the type of team, if they got off to a good start, could cause us some problems," Ray said. "The key to the victory is we only took 10 (3-point shot attempts). We are leaning the difference in a good shot and a bad shot. Sometimes, we take bad ill-advised shots. I thought tonight we did a good job of not doing that."
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 30 of 61 shots from the field (49.2 percent), 4 of 10 shots from 3-point range (40.0 percent) and 14 of 28 shots from the foul line (50.0 percent). The Owls hit 21 of 63 shots from the field (33.3 percent), 6 of 24 shots from 3-point range (25.0 percent) and 10 of 15 shots from the foul line (66.7 percent).
Florida Atlantic held a 42-40 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 16 assists and 16 turnovers, while the Owls had 10 assists and 27 turnovers. MSU was also credited with 17 steals, including five by Fred Thomas and four by Colin Borchert.
Roquez Johnson paced the Bulldogs with 17 points, while Thomas added 16 points. Sword added 11 points, while Ware added 10 points. Bloodman had nine points, seven assists and five rebounds in 28 minutes of play, with only two turnovers.
Florida Atlantic received 17 points from Greg Gantt and 11 points from Cavon Baker. Dragan Sekelja had a game-high nine rebounds for the Owls.
MSU faces off with North Carolina Monday in the next round of the Maui Invitational. That contest is set for a 5 p.m. start in Maui, Hawaii. ESPN2 will have the national broadcast.
The Bulldogs return home Nov. 27 for a 7 p.m. start against Alcorn State.