Mississippi State beats Florida Gulf Coast 66-53

DAVID BRANDT (AP Sports Writer)
The Associated Press

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) -- Mississippi State made sure Florida Gulf Coast didn't come close to living up to its high-flying nickname.

Craig Sword scored 17 points, I.J. Ready added 12 and the Bulldogs clamped down on FGCU's offense during a 66-53 victory on Thursday night.

Florida Gulf Coast earned the moniker Dunk City last year thanks to its acrobatic dunks during a run to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16. But the Eagles rarely ran and had zero dunks against the Bulldogs, who made an obvious effort to get back on defense and squash any fast-break attempts.

''Dunk City feeds off their dunks so we came out tonight and said they weren't going to get any,'' Mississippi State guard Fred Thomas said.

Without them, Florida Gulf Coast's offense went flat. The Eagles had only four fast-break points the entire night.

Mississippi State (8-2) has won three straight. The Bulldogs received plenty of help from their bench - with 10 points each from Thomas and Roquez Johnson - outscoring Florida Gulf Coast's reserves 25-4.

FGCU (5-6) has lost five of its last six games. Brett Comer led the Eagles with 15 points while Chase Fieler added 11. The Eagles shot just 3 of 18 (16.7 percent) from 3-point range.

The 53 points were Florida Gulf Coast's fewest of the season. The Eagles had 21 turnovers - struggling to convert opportunities in their half-court sets - and trailed for good after Mississippi State's Thomas hit a 3-pointer to make it 10-8 with 14:41 left in the first half.

''I thought this was our best defensive effort of the year,'' Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. ''I thought it was the best we've played (this year).''

Sword continued his terrific and efficient December, shooting 6 of 8 from the field against the Eagles. The 6-foot-3 sophomore is averaging 20.6 points over his last five games and has made 35 of 49 shots (71.4 percent) from the field over the same span.

Sword's only issue on Thursday night was at the free-throw line, where he made just 5 of 11 attempts.

But that's a small complaint for a guy that's been the catalyst for just about everything the Bulldogs have done this season. He's also arguably the team's best defender, and added a pair of steals against the Eagles.

''He's a good basketball player and when it's all said and done that's what you need,'' Ray said. ''We can X and O until the cows come home, but you need guys who can make plays.''

Gavin Ware also added 10 points and six rebounds for the Bulldogs, who out-rebounded Florida Gulf Coast 33-30.

Ray was pleased his team had such a defensive focus against the Eagles and hopes that effort will carry over as Southeastern Conference play quickly approaches.

''I would hope that they don't want to get dunked on any game,'' Ray said laughing. ''But I think that Florida Gulf Coast is really lethal in transition. We made a point of that - we can't let these guys get in transition.''

Florida Gulf Coast kept it close for much of the night, pulling within 49-41 on Bernard Thompson's 3-pointer with 8:58 remaining, but couldn't overcome the constant turnovers and missed opportunities.

Comer shot 7 of 13 from the field and had three assists. Jamail Jones scored nine points and grabbed nine rebounds but also had seven turnovers.

''When you're throwing the ball the other way it's hard,'' Florida Gulf Coast coach Joe Dooley said. ''I thought from a passing and catching standpoint, we were very poor.''


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