STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Mississippi State’s Roquez Johnson scored 16 points to lead three Bulldogs in double digits and Mississippi State beat Western Carolina 66-56 on Friday.
Fred Thomas added 15 points for the Bulldogs and Gavin Ware had 14 points and 10 rebounds for his 10th career double-double.
It was the season opener for both teams and the Catamounts were led by James Sinclair’s game-high 20 points. Rhett Harrelson had 14 points for Western Carolina and Mike Brown added 11.
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It was also the first meeting between the two schools.
Mississippi State shot 52.4 percent in the first half but had 12 turnovers and led just 31-30 at halftime. Western Carolina remained close in the first half thanks to a 5-of-10 showing on 3-pointers.
Western Carolina built an early 16-10 lead only to see Mississippi State respond with a 15-4 run. Mississippi State would not trail again and led by as many as 11 points in the second half.
”I thought (Western Carolina) did some really good things in their sets that we were not prepared for,” said Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray. ”I thought we came out a little tight in the first half and turned the ball over way too much. But we reduced our turnovers in the second half and did a good job making our free throws. I thought that was key for us.”
The Bulldogs also got seven points and six assists from Trivante Bloodman. Mississippi State was 28-of-37 from the free-throw line while Western Carolina was just 5-of-10.
”I thought both teams competed very hard,” said Western Carolina head coach Larry Hunter. ”I thought the start of the second half when Mississippi State opened up a lead, they established Gavin Ware in the post. They got to the foul line and their execution was much sharper in the second half and built off that lead.”
For the game, Mississippi State shot 45.9 percent from the floor and out-rebounded the Catamounts 39-27. Western Carolina shot just 36.2 percent for the game and finished 9-of-24 on 3-pointers.
Mississippi State is now 2-1 in season openers under head coach Rick Ray. The Bulldogs are now 42-13 all-time against Southern Conference teams with their last loss against a Southern Conference team coming against East Tennessee State in 2010. It was Mississippi State’s 400th win all-time at Humphrey Coliseum.
Western Carolina is now 1-15 all-time in season openers on the road. The Catamounts are also 2-38 all-time against SEC competition, only defeating Arkansas in 2003 and Tennessee in 1993.
Mississippi State hosts Mississippi Valley State on Monday.