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November 27, 2013

Bulldogs Survive Thanksgiving Nightmare; Beat JSU, 58-56

Jackson State came to Starkville looking to ruin Mississippi State's Thanksgiving but the Bulldogs stalled a last-second shot to pull off the win at home, 58-56.

Mississippi State (4-1) looked more like the first half they played was after their Thanksgiving meal than before as they came out sluggish against the Tigers (2-5). JSU jumped out to an early 7-0 lead in the first three minutes and maintained that lead for most of the first half with the Bulldogs taking the lead on a couple of occasions.

"I think really that we get punched in the mouth in the first half and we have to come out and respond," Ray said. "I wish that we didn't have to get punched in the mouth. I wish we did it first."

MSU shot just 7-25 for 28% in the first half while four of those field goals came from beyond the arc. MSU also had a significant rebounding margin to overcome as they trailed that early, 9-0, and finished the half trailing 22-17 on the boards. MSU got just two points and four rebounds from Gavin Ware and trailed the Tigers 28-23.

"I talked about three things before the game. I wanted us to play with enthusiasm, excitement and energy and we had none of those. Jackson State had all of them," Head Coach Rick Ray said. "We came out and we didn't attack right away and we're not excited about playing basketball. That's what disappoints me the most at this point and time."

"We came out playing soft and took a lot of threes and that wasn't our game," Sword said. "Coach got us in the locker room at halftime and told us that we better start playing our game."

The Bulldogs came out from the break much more crisp with three scores in their first four possession cutting the JSU lead to one at 30-29 just two and a half minutes in. The game would go back and forth with neither team taking the full advantage and by the eight minute mark, the Bulldogs still only led by one point at 47-46.

MSU trailed by two with 4:30 remaining when Colin Borchert hit a turnaround in the paint to tie the game up. Craig Sword would have a big block on the other end and Borchert scored against offensively to give the Bulldogs the lead back at 55-53 with 2:39 left.

Sword came up big again with a score on one end to give MSU another two-point lead with 1:10 left. Sword then corralled the defensive rebound and Fred Thomas hit one of two free throws to give the Bulldogs the largest lead of the night at 58-55 with 40 seconds left.

"I felt like I had to take over because I didn't play most of the first half because of foul trouble," Sword said. "I just was playing and it all came to me."

JSU had possession of the ball with 2.9 seconds remaining trailing by two at 58-56. The Tigers took a three-point shot at the buzzer for the win that missed and the Bulldogs escaped with the win, 58-56.

"We're happy to come away with the win, it would have been a bad Thanksgiving if we would have lost that game," Ray said. "I think the difference in the game was Jackson State has been out and competed before. They've had to go out there and compete every game and their thirst and desire is way more right now and ours is not."

The Bulldogs managed to shoot much better (43%) in the second half because Ray wanted his team staying away from three pointers as they shot just one the entire second half and that was the final shot for MSU on the game.

"We shot too many threes," Colin Borchert said of the first half. "Coach told us at halftime if we came in and shot a three in the second half he was going to take us right out. I think the biggest thing was getting the ball in the post and getting easy shots at the baskets."

State had 19 turnovers compared to six assists throughout the game but they did come back in the rebounding column and won that battle 33-32.

MSU moved to 4-1 on the young campaign and got three players in double figures led by Sword's 12 points and five rebounds. Roquez Johnson added 11 points and Thomas had 11 points and six rebounds.

The Bulldogs now prepare for a rematch against Loyola in the 50th anniversary of the historic Game of Change. Game time is set for noon on Sunday.


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