Mississippi State defeated William Carey 80-74 Sunday in the Bulldogs' lone exhibition game of the 2012-13 campaign. It was the first opportunity for first-year MSU head coach Rick Ray to see his team face a different uniform on the hardwood and he came away with mixed reviews.
MSU freshman Fred Thomas had 15 points in Sunday's exhibition win
"William Carey went with a bunch of different defenses," said Ray. "They went from a 1-3-1 to a 2-3 and to a man. Our guys were not prepared to face that offensively and we never got into a rhythm. I don't fault our guys for that since we have so many inexperienced guys and that will come with experience."
What concerned Ray the most was the fact his team only out-rebounded the NAIA school 45-40 and allowed 12 offensive rebounds.
"Defensively is what I am more concerned about," said Ray. "We have to be the most aggressive team out there. We can't give up offensive rebounds to a team like William Carey who is smaller and less physical than us. We also did a poor job of jumping to the ball and cutting off their gaps."
The Bulldogs put four players in double digits led by Jalen Steele's 17 points. Steele scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half and was 3-of-6 beyond the arc. Fred Thomas, Colin Borchert and Wendell Lewis each had 15 points for the Bulldogs with Thomas and Borchert combining for 28 in the first half.
"I feel we could've done way better but it was the first game," said Steele. "William Carey threw a lot of different looks at us and we could've executed more plays and gotten more buckets.
"We've got to work on executing and defense...mainly defense and rebounding. We need everybody crashing the boards."
MSU shot 45.6 percent for the game and were 8-of-23 beyond the arc. The Bulldogs were also 20-30 at the free throw line led by Lewis' 9-of-11 showing at the charity stripe. Lewis sank four straight in the closing seconds to help ice the game for MSU, who held a 41-36 lead at the half.
"Yeah and I credited Wendell when we met after the game," said Ray. "I told him if he doesn't make those free throws then the game gets tighter."
MSU played nine players, including senior walkon Tyson Cunningham, but were without freshman guard/forward Andre Applewhite. Ray say Applewhite's injury was related to his knee and an MRI on Monday would reveal more.
Thomas was one of three freshmen playing for the Bulldogs, joining Craig Sword (four points, four boards, two assists) and Gavin Ware (three points, five rebounds). But Thomas was the most active of the MSU freshmen, shooting 5-of-14 from the field and 2-of-8 beyond the arc.
"I think I played okay," said Thomas. "But defensively I should've had a couple more rebounds than I did. If I am open I am a very confident player and I am going to take the shot. I should've hit more today but I am confident when I am open."
MSU opens the regular season Friday night at Troy with a 7 p.m. tipoff. The Bulldogs will then open their home slate on Nov. 13 against Florida Atlantic.