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December 1, 2013

Bulldogs Get Redemption in Overtime; Beat Loyola, 65-64

Commemorating the 51st anniversary of the historic "Game of Change", Mississippi State hosted Loyola Chicago at Humphrey Coliseum Sunday afternoon in a defensive slugfest. After falling a year ago on the road, the Bulldogs (5-1) got redemption in overtime knocking off the Ramblers (3-5), 65-64.

"It's really good for this game to happen," Head Coach Rick Ray said of the historical significance. "I know when I first got the job here (coach) Porter (Moser) contacted me about doing this. It's a shame that I really didn't know anything about the Game of Change. I think a lot of people outside of Mississippi State and Loyola are not familiar with that game and I think it's a significant step in NCAA history of basketball. Usually Mississippi has a lot of negative connotations when it comes to race relations and when you see something positive like this in Mississippi and particular our University, it's something that should be promoted."

MSU again didn't come out as crisp as they would previously liked. Gavin Ware picked up two early fouls, State wasn't hitting shots and the Ramblers had run out to a seven point week 12 minutes into the game. That's when the Bulldogs turned to junior forward Roquez Johnson who took over and kept MSU in the ball game in the first half.

Johnson led the Bulldogs back to the lead after trailing by seven and poured in 13 points and six rebounds but the Ramblers tied the game at the halftime horn. The Bulldogs struggled at times through the first 20 minutes shooting just 38% while giving up 50% shooting by Loyola. They made just one of nine field goals from three point range but forced eight turnovers while having only four of their own.

Johnson single-handedly kept the Bulldogs in the first half pulling down six of the 13 team rebounds.

State came out of the gate sluggish again but would pick it up. Loyola went on a 7-0 run with 14 minutes left to take a five-point lead. State answered with 11-consecutive points of their own and took their largest lead of the game at 44-38 with 12 minutes remaining.

The Ramblers didn't lose composure and battled back to retake the lead with seven straight points and the teams would begin to battle back and forth. MSU would head to the under-four timeout leading by just one point at 54-53 with 3:09 remaining and Ware finally back in the game after foul trouble and came out of the timeout hitting one of two free throws to give the Bulldogs the 55-53 lead.

MSU had a one-and-one opportunity with Sword who missed the front in and Loyola buried the three pointer to tie the game at 56 with 42 seconds left. After Johnson missed two free throws on the other end, the Ramblers drew the foul but missed their two free throws as well setting up a last shot for the Bulldogs.

Sword took the final shot for MSU that hit off the rim from three and the Bulldogs went to overtime tied at 56.

State went down early by four before starting to get things going offensively. After the four-point deficit, Fred Thomas nailed a three followed by a drive and slam by Sword. On the next trip, Sword went back to work on the drive and made his shot with the foul. State led 64-62 with 1:30 left in the game.

"Coach just told us to be patient. We got some stops then we had to just let the offense come to us," Sword said of the late overtime surge. They were playing off of me so I just drove. Everything opens up when you're driving."

Loyola cut the MSU lead to one with 32 seconds left and MSU was fouled. Thomas missed both and gave the ball back to the Ramblers for one last shot. MSU's defense would get the stop they needed and a block sealed the victory as MSU started the season 5-1.

"I think that overtimes have been good to Mississippi State this week," Ray said. "Obviously we would like to not be in those situations but when you get in there and get a win, it's a good thing for both football and basketball."


State won the ball game despite getting little to no production from their star post player Ware who had no points and just five rebounds.

"We had a lot of momentum going and I felt like me and Chicken brought a lot of energy," Johnson said of his performance. "They kind of had me going a lot. Gavin didn't show up tonight so someone had to show up. I've got my teammates' back."

The Bulldogs were led by Sword who scored 24 points on 8-12 shooting including 8-10 on the offensive line and five rebounds. Johnson added career highs with 20 points and 11 rebounds. State out-shot the Ramblers 47% to 43%. They turned the ball over just nine times forcing 14 turnovers themselves.

"I think that you're starting to see why we keep going to Montgomery, Ala., and Carver High School in recruiting because between those two guys, they gave us 44 points so that's always a good thing," Ray said of Johnson and Sword. "When Roquez plays with that much energy he's always a huge help and then when he's going to score like that it's an added bonus. They're a smaller team inside so we felt like we could get some buckets inside. He did a really good job at forcing the issue inside."

One area the Bulldogs really struggled in was a 35-27 rebounding advantage that they were beat in. They also were beat in the paint 34-26.

MSU now moves to a battle with TCU in the SEC-Big12 Challenge next Thursday. The game is set for 6 p.m. on campus at the Hump and will be broadcast on ESPNU.


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