For most of the season thusfar, the Bulldogs have been searching for a scorer and a leader. That scorer has emerged in the form of sophomore Craig Sword who has reeled off three-straight 20-plus point games including 22 points against Southeastern Louisiana on Friday to lead the Bulldogs to a 68-62 victory in Tupelo at the BancorpSouth Center.
The Bulldogs built an early lead with a fury of points after the first media timeout taking a 14-2 lead just eight minutes in. For the rest of the half, it was a back and forth affair as the two teams battled and SELU (3-6) hit a three pointer to end the half with their first lead of the game at 33-32.
"We started off the game getting 11 out of 12 shots and that's what we wanted to focus on, playing through adversity," Rick Ray said of the big start. "We kind of go crazy in the first half shooting some threes, but then you look at the stats and they were 6-24 from the three point line and only went to the free throw line eight times."
MSU (6-2) had an injured Roquez Johnson on the bench and little help from players like Gavin Ware and Fred Thomas who combined for seven points. MSU was winning the rebounds advantage at 18-13 and had nine turnovers to the Lions eight.
"I think we really got down the first half this game because Quez went down with his knee," Sword said of the first half lull. "We started to pick the intensity up. When we start losing we start to try to pick it up. We've just got to pick it up a little more now."
In the start of the second half, it was all Lions. SELU came out early with a couple of quick baskets and their largest lead of the game at six just two minutes in. By the first timeout, the Bulldogs trailed 44-40 with 15:38 left in the game.
MSU would then get the energy that it desperately needed from its leader, Craig Sword. The sophomore scored a basket off the inbounds and followed it up with two more baskets to give State its lead back at 50-48 with 12:55 left in the game.
The teams stayed close for the next eight minutes as they went to the under four minute timeout with the Bulldogs only leading by three. MSU's lead shrunk to one with under a minute left before Sword came through again to provide a big drive and score for the three-point lead at 65-62 with 43 seconds left.
"When it came down to it at the end, coach told me to come off of the ball screen and make a play," Sword said of the stretch run. "I had got in foul trouble at the end of the first half but I just played hard in the second half. I've been pretty good going into these games and playing with confidence."
MSU would play sound defense at the end of the ball game and hold on to win the game 68-62 to get its sixth win of the season. Sword led the way for the Bulldogs with 22 points on a solid 9-11 shooting.
"Chicken is just playing phenomenal at this point in time," Ray said of his sophomore shooting guard. "I think he's shooting like 80% right now and that's just unheard of for a guard. Those are big-man Wilt Chamberlain type numbers. He's been phenomenal for us."
The Bulldogs now move on to their next ball game of the schedule when they return home to the Hump to take on Florida A&M at 7 p.m. Tuesday night.