Last season, Mississippi State couldn't find their eighth win of the season until March against Ole Miss. In 2013, the Bulldogs have started the season 8-2 after a win over Florida Gulf Coast on Thursday an NCAA Sweet 16 participant from a year ago.
Behind five players in double figures, the Bulldogs forced 21 turnovers with 15 steals leading to 16 points off of turnovers. They controlled the tempo of the game as well as controlled the offensive and defensive end with aggression.
MSU came out with fire and intensity from the outset as they started with a 7-2 run with scores from I.J. Ready, Fred Thomas and Craig Sword as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 7-2 lead just a couple of minutes into the game.
Though the Eagles closed the gap for a few minutes, the Bulldogs started to push the lead out with defense turning into offense. MSU got their largest lead of the game at 10 points after a Thomas three with 18 seconds left but the Eagles would answer on the other end with a teardrop lay up as time expired and MSU led by eight with the 32-24 lead.
The Bulldogs were out-hustling and out-working the Eagles in the first half as they forced 14 turnovers, 10 of them steals, and converting them into 12 points.
"I was really proud of the adversity that our guys fought through in the first half," Head Coach Rick Ray said. "We looked out there on the court and we're ending with nobody taller than 6'4 and our guys were switching, talking and communicating and we just didn't give in."
State started the second half with as much intensity as they came out of the gate working the defense and pushing the lead to 12 with 15 minutes remaining. But Gulf Coast would mount a bit of a comeback. The Eagles would put together six straight points to cut the lead down to six.
"There was a time where they showed more energy than us and they cut it to six points and our guys responded well and would fight through it," Ray said. "I was really proud of our effort on the defensive end the way that we talked."
MSU then started to find its offensive rhythm again with scores from Gavin Ware and Sword in transition and capped by five-straight points from Trivante Bloodman that had the Bulldogs back out in front by double digits at 53-41 with 6:30 left.
That lead would not come under nine points as the Bulldogs pulled off a solid win against a Sweet 16 team from a year ago. The Bulldogs moved to 8-2 garnering their third-consecutive win and are only two wins shy from their total a year ago.
"I thought this was a really good win for our ball club against a quality opponent," Ray said of the victory against the 2013 Sweet 16 squad. "I thought it was our best defensive effort this year and I thought that's the best we've played as a team since South Carolina and Ole Miss of last year."
State was led again by Sword who poured in 17 points on an efficient 6-8 shooting. Ready had 12 points and five steals and Ware, Johnson and Thomas added 10 with Thomas hitting a trio of three point shots for the first time since the second game of the season.
The Bulldogs now travel to Las Vegas for the Las Vegas Classic for two ball games. MSU plays South Florida on Sunday in a 7 p.m. tip broadcast on CBS College Sports. They will play either UNLV or Santa Clara on Monday.