TUPELO, Miss. – Craig Sword is showing more patience this season, and it's paying off for Mississippi State.
Friday, the sophomore guard scored 22 points on a 9-of-11 night from the floor as MSU knocked off Southeastern Louisiana 68-62 at the BancorpSouth Arena.
“Right now, I am trying to let the game come to me more,” Sword said. “Last season, I was forcing shots. It was like I always felt like I needed to do something. So now, there is more patience and trying to take better shots.”
The results have been good so far.
In a nip-and-tuck battle, the Bulldogs did not take the lead for good until the closing minutes. Playing its annual in-state game away from campus, MSU (6-2) improved to 4-0 all-time in Tupelo.
“This is a good win for us,” MSU coach Rick Ray said. “When you look at stats, it is sometimes perception versus reality. We started the game by making 11 of 12 stops. Things got crazy when they made some 3s.
“We changed some things defensively and at the end of the day they only made 6 out of 24 3-point baskets and only got to the line eight times. Those are some really good numbers.”
The Bulldogs held the Lions to one field goal over the first seven minutes of the game and quickly sprinted to a 12-2 lead. The Lions hit a couple of 3s and quickly got back within 14-11.
A 3-pointer by Sword ran the lead back to 17-11. A basket by Trivante Bloodman ran the lead to 26-20. The Lions came back with a 10-3 run to take a 30-29 lead.
A 3-pointer by Julian Chiera placed Southeaster Louisiana on top 33-32 at halftime.
“We did a better job of worrying about our defense in the second half,” MSU sophomore guard Fred Thomas said. “That goes for me especially. It is a situation where you can’t get worried about your offense when the shots aren’t falling. When you play defense hard, it can lead to good offense.
“That is the focus right now.”
Southeastern Louisiana quickly built a 40-34 lead less than two minutes played in the second half. MSU did not take the lead for good until Sword scored six straight points for a 50-48 advantage with 13:08 left.
“(Craig Sword) is playing phenomenal right now,” Ray said. “He has been putting up big man type numbers. The thing is our guys need to start feeling better about wins. I know it’s a close win over Southeastern Louisiana, but you need to feel good about wins.
“The things that we are not doing well right now are fixable. School is not in session so this is a chance to really make some strides. This is a time to improve your team and we are going to do it right now.”
The Bulldogs took the lead for good on a layup by Sword at 56-54 with 7:30 left. A follow-up 3-pointer by Sword ran the lead to 60-56.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 25 of 46 shots from the field (54.3 percent), 3 of 8 shots from 3-point range (37.5 percent) and 15 of 28 shots from the foul line (53.6 percent).The Lions hit 25 of 63 shots from the field (39.7 percent), 6 of 24 shots from 3-point range (25.0 percent) and 6 of 8 shots from the foul line (75.0 percent).
MSU held a 34-31 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 12 assists and 14 turnovers, while the Lions had 12 assists and 12 turnovers.
Behind Sword, Gavin Ware and Colin Borchert followed with nine points apiece. Borchert also had a team-high seven rebounds. IJ Ready had four assists, while Sword had three assists and three steals.
Southeastern Louisiana (3-6) received a game-high 26 points and team-high eight rebounds from Antonnio Benton.
MSU returns home to host Florida A&M Tuesday night. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. in the Humphrey Coliseum. Santa Claus will also be at the arena to greet fans prior to the game.