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Bulldogs embrace opportunity against the tough Tar Heels

November 18, 2012

Freshman Fred Thomas will start at the two-guard position for Mississippi State against North Carolina today at the Maui Invitational. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)

Mississippi State is looking to make history today and give head coach Rick Ray his first win over a ranked opponent.

The Bulldogs (1-1) battle the No. 11, by the Associated Press, North Carolina Tar Heels (3-0) in the Maui Invitational.

Tipoff is set for 5 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN2.

The Bulldogs are 0-5 all-time against the Tar Heels.

"This is a great opportunity for our program," Ray said Sunday at a press conference in Maui, Hawaii. "Our guys are excited to play a team the caliber of North Carolina, and they are looking forward to the challenge this game presents."

Mississippi State took six scholarship players to Maui. It has only eight men on the roster for this tournament.

The Bulldogs will be without junior guard Jalen Steele who suffered a fractured left wrist in a 78-58 win over Florida Atlantic last week.

MSU lost freshmen Jacoby Davis and DeAndre Applewhite before the season started to knee injuries. It is also without junior forward Colin Borchert who was suspended for the tournament for violating team rules.

Using injuries and suspensions as excuses is something Ray and his squad aren't going to do.

"I don't want to hear excuses," Ray said. "Trust me, no one is feeling sorry for us. What this does is give guys a chance to step up and compete."

The Bulldogs plan to start two freshman and a sophomore in the back court. Craig Sword will start for Steele and Fred Thomas will get the start at the two-guard. Sophomore Trivante Bloodman will start at the other guard position.

Thomas is averaging 10 points per game through two outings and Sword has scored 6.5 points per game. Bloodman has accounted for 10 points per game this season.

"It's just a name," Thomas said of North Carolina. "They got to suit up just like we do."

Senior center Wendell Lewis and sophomore forward Roquez Johnson will get the starting nod in the front court for MSU.

Lewis, the lone senior, has averaged 5.5 points and three rebounds per game. Johnson is leading the Bulldogs with 17 points per game, although he didn't play in the opener against Troy.

Former Starkville High School standout Gavin Ware has scored 10 points in both of his first two collegiate games.

The Tar Heels are led by forward James McAdoo, who has averaged 21 points per game. Reggie Bullock is second on the team with a 10 points per contest.

North Carolina is coming off a 78-63 win over Long Beach State on the road last Friday night.

"I like our toughness," North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said Sunday in Maui. "I saw that Friday night when the game was still close and the crowd was still in the game, but (with) the competition here, we're gong to have to be even better."

Depending on the outcome, the Bulldogs play either Maquette or Butler at 1:30 or 7:30 on Tuesday.

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