Bulldogs Battle No. 11 North Carolina In Maui

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Craig Sword and the rest of his Mississippi State teammates battle North Carolina on Monday in Maui.
Photo Courtesy of Bill Simmonds

MAUI - There's been sand, there's been sun and there's been Hawaiian-style entertainment. Now, it's time for the purpose of the trip, which is basketball.

Monday, Mississippi State looks to feed off the momentum of its win against Florida Atlantic when it battles No. 11-ranked North Carolina in the opening round of the EA SPORTS Maui Invitational at the Lahaina Civic Center.

The game, televised on ESPN2 at 5 p.m. CT, is the first against a ranked opponent for MSU since dropping a 73-64 decision to No. 1 Kentucky last February. Monday also marks the sixth meeting between the Bulldogs and Tar Heels, with UNC winning the previous five contests.

The two last met in 2010 NIT, with North Carolina claiming a 76-74 victory in the closing seconds. All-time, the Bulldogs are 30-42 against teams from the ACC.

"This is a great opportunity for our program," said MSU coach Rick Ray, whose team sports a 1-1 ledger. "Our guys are excited to play a team the caliber of North Carolina, and they are looking forward to the challenge this game presents."

Mississippi State, which is 3-6 in the state of Hawaii, finds itself shorthanded due to a plethora of injuries and other issues. Only six scholarship players are available, but Ray doesn't find that as an excuse.

"I don't want to hear excuses," he said. "Trust me, no one is feeling sorry for us. What this does is give guys a chance to step up and compete."

After dropping the season opener at Troy, MSU bounced back in impressive fashion with a 78-58 dismantling of Florida Atlantic. Roquez Johnson, playing for the first time due to a concussion, paced his team with 17 points, while freshmen guards Fred Thomas and Craig Sword added 16 and 11, respectively. Freshman forward Gavin Ware totaled 10 points and 5 rebounds, while sophomore guard Trivante Bloodman dished out a career-best 7 assists.

North Carolina makes the trip across the Pacific with a 3-0 record following its 78-63 win at Long Beach State Friday night. At the break, UNC led just 33-32.

Forward James McAdoo led the Tar Heels in that game with 18 points and 9 rebounds, while on the year he's tops in scoring with his 21.0 clip. The only other UNC player scoring in double digits is Reggie Bullock at 10.0.

"I like our toughness," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "I saw that Friday night when the game was still close and the crowd was still in the game. But with the competition here, we're going to have to be even better."

After Monday, the Bulldogs return to action on Tuesday against Butler or Marquette at 1:30 p.m. or 7 p.m.



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