Mississippi State (7-2) lived off of the free throw line on Tuesday night hitting 33-45 from the stripe as they knocked off the Rattlers of Florida A&M (2-8), 78-65.
"We got into the lane a lot and when you get in the paint you either pass the ball into the paint or you drive the ball to the paint," Head Coach Rick Ray said. "Right now people are playing off of us so we can't pass the ball to the paint. You want to draw fouls because of the way they're calling the game these days so we're really driving the basketball."
The Bulldogs came out hitting shots much better than the past few games but couldn't push the lead out more than a couple of points. The defense would intensify for MSU for the next 10 minutes of the half and they would extend that lead out to as much as 15 and led at the half, 42-27.
Sword kept his hot scoring going with 15 points in the first half hitting 9-10 free throws. Colin Borchert had eight points in the first half with three rebounds.
State was having a big shooting start hitting 52% of their shots while the Rattlers struggled hitting just 32%.
State kept the pressure on in the second half and quickly pushed their 15-point lead out to 20 just two minutes into the half. State would do it on the defensive and offensive end as the built their lead to the largest of the night at 26 with 12:22 left in the game.
The Rattlers would draw as close as 13 points with 27 seconds remaining, but the Bulldogs were not to be denied on Tuesday night as they won the ball game handedly. State moved to 7-2 on the season with the 78-65 win.
The Bulldogs were exceptional from the free throw line on the night hitting 33-45 from the stripe for 73%. MSU was outrebounded by the Rattlers 48-40.
"I thought we came out with a lot of injury in that first half," Rick Ray said. "I thought Andre Applewhite really did a good job getting to some loose balls and getting some offensive rebounds providing that energy that Roquez Johnson usually provides. We lived at the free throw line. I think there was a stretch where we were 20-23 at the free throw line in the second half when we were having a difficult time scoring."
Sword led the way again with 16 points, but Andre Applewhite had the biggest game of his career with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Both were career highs and his first double-double.
"Honestly I didn't know I had a double-double until coach Ray told me with about two seconds to go," Applewhite said of his big night. "It feels good. Just having the great teammates that I have keep me motivated and to play hard. And Mrs. Ray made some good cookies before the game and that helped too!"
The eighth win was three more than they had in the non-conference schedule all of last season and just three wins away from their total a year ago. The Bulldogs now prepare for their toughest opponent thus far when Florida Gulf Coast comes to the Hump Thursday at 8 p.m. FGCU is rebounding from a sweet 16 finish last year.
"I think we have some momentum going into our next game," Tyson Cunningham said. "We have a pretty decent record right now so we've got some confidence going in. We're just trying to stay together and keep fighting in practice."