The Mississippi State Bulldogs were eager to put last week behind them and get a win.
To do that, MSU head coach Rick Ray started former Starkville High School standout freshman Gavin Ware instead of senior Wendell Lewis and junior walk-on Tyson Cunningham.
The Bulldogs rebounded with the different lineup and got a 60-42 victory over the Alcorn State Braves Tuesday night inside Humphrey Coliseum.
MSU (2-4) out-rebounded the Braves (2-5) 50-20. Ware and and sophomore Roquez Johnson had 19 between them with Ware having 12 to lead the Bulldogs.
"It played a big part," Ware said of rebounding. "That's what they mostly talked about, rebounding the ball.
Because if they throw up rickety shots, he was still talking about rebounding because their big men were rebounding the ball and getting them second-chance opportunities. I wanted to come to practice, work on rebounding and carry it over to the game."
This was the first time MSU has won the rebounding statistic this season. Ray credits that to the defensive effort.
"There were a lot of opportunities to get rebounds (Tuesday) because of what we did defensively," Ray said. "We held them to 28 percent from the field. When you hold a team to 28 percent, you're going to have opportunities to get defensive rebounds."
The Bulldogs were led by freshman Craig Sword and Fred Thomas each with 14 points.
"It feels great," Sword said. "When you work hard at practice, it shows on the court. We busted our butt at practice."
Thomas was 5-of-12 from the field and 0-from-4 from 3-point land. He found a way to get points inside the arc.
"Coach always talks to me about being patient and my shots will come to me," Thomas said. "That's what happened to me (Tuesday)."
Ray sees the potential that Thomas presents as a basketball player.
"I don't want Fred Thomas to live and die with his 3-point shot," Ray said. "He's a good basketball player. I don't want him to believe his only quality is his 3-point shooting. He's got to continue to fight through when he has a bad shooting night."
Alcorn State scored the first two points of the game, but Mississippi State answered with a 13-0 run and never trailed again.
The Braves fought back with a 4-0 of its own early in the first half, but the Bulldogs snuffed that out with an 11-2 run.
The Bulldogs led 37-21 at the break.
"We just ran our set plays, ran our offense and we got good looks," Ware said.
Ware was three points from his first double-double in college.
"I don't think it's more about doubling but it was about getting good seals," Ray said of Ware. "He fights for seals and then you don't have to worry about double teams. It's when you have the ball with your back to the basket and now you have to make a legitimate post move. For the most part, all he had to do with go up with the basketball and execute his angle."
The Bulldogs limited the Braves to only 15-of-23 shooting for 28.3 percent and shot 18-of-44 for 40.9 percent themselves.
The Braves were led by Anthony Evans with 12 points and LeAntwan Luckett with 11 points.
"They pretty much did (guarding) well," Luckett said. "I tried to execute plays and still try to do what I do, make shots. I think I took like one wide open shot."
The Bulldogs had only six assists and turned the ball over 21 times.
"Obviously, the thing I'm most concerned about is the negative assist to turnover (ratio)," Ray said. "We have to fix that if we're going to beat a good team here or on the road."
The Bulldogs are back in action this Saturday when they travel to Rhode Island to take on Providence as part of the Big East/SEC Challenge. Tipoff is set for 11 a.m. and can be seen on ESPNU.