Mississippi State head basketball coach Rick Ray has come to the conclusion that his team is going to have to win some "ugly basketball games."
The Bulldogs did exactly that Tuesday night.
MSU beat the University of Texas-San Antonio 53-42 inside Humphrey Coliseum.
"We have been talking to our guys for quite some time about we have to go out and win some ugly basketball games," Ray said. "We are going to grind out and win some ugly basketball games. That's what we need to do."
The Bulldogs (3-5) limited the Roadrunners to just 15-of-55 shooting from the field for just under 28 percent. The 15 field goals is tied for the fewest by an MSU opponents. Alcorn State only managed to make 15 field goals. The Bulldogs also forced 20 turnovers.
"We work hard on defense in practice," MSU freshman guard Craig Sword said. "That's all we work on is defense."
The 42 points allowed by the Bulldogs ties the season low. MSU only allowed 42 to Alcorn State last week. It also is lowest since 2008 against LSU when the Tigers scored 39.
"Obviously really pleased with our defensive effort," Ray said. "The defensive effort was tremendous. For us to play that hard, guarding the basketball, ball pressure when you are playing a team that sets a lot of ball screens, I'm really pleased with that."
The Bulldogs forced two shot clock violations in the first half and the defensive momentum carried over all game.
Senior forward Wendell Lewis scored a career-high 20 points to give him back-to-back double digit games. Lewis scored 16 points in a 73-63 loss to Providence last Saturday.
"I took the same approach as I had last game," Lewis said. "(I wanted to) go out, work hard and crash. If I don't get it in the post, I'm going to the glass to get an offensive rebound. (I want to) help the team out."
Lewis is the first Bulldog player this season to reach 20 points.
"I've been in a good mood, staying positive, working out, taking treatment and taking care of myself," Lewis said. "I'm just in a good mood."
Ray has wanted Lewis to become more of a presence on the court and that is why he has not started him the last three games. It seems to be motivating him.
"Wendell Lewis continues to get better and play," Ray said. "He got some easy opportunities at the rim, but he finished those easy opportunities. In the past, he might have missed some of those."
Both teams went scoreless for about 7 minutes in the first half. The Bulldogs scored with 8:21 remaining in the first half for a 16-14 lead.
Neither team scored until the 1:49 mark when Lewis made a layup to make it 18-14.
"We struggle offensively, we make some bad decisions and we have a young team," Ray said. "I thought our guys tried to pass the basketball around, didn't get selfish with it and didn't try to take some things upon their own interest when things got bad for us offensively."
During the scoreless stretch each team combined for 12 turnovers, 15 missed field goals and two missed free throws.
The Roadrunners (3-5) made a free throw with 43 seconds left and Larry Wilkins had a dunk with 6 seconds remaining. The Bulldogs entered the locker room with a 23-17 halftime lead.
Ray had some butterflies before his team took the court. He saw one of the best practices on Monday and was scared it wasn't going to carry over.
"Our guys were really good in our walk-through (Monday night)," Ray said. "They were jumping to the basketball, they were talking and they were showing hands on closeouts. It made me so nervous that I stayed up to about 4 o'clock in the morning because I thought something's wrong here, (and) something's not got going to be right.
"It turned out not to be that way."
The Roadrunners were led by Kannon Burrage's 15 points. Hyjii Thomas added 10 points.
Along with Lewis, Sword got into double digits with 13 points. Freshman guard Fred Thomas added nine points and junior forward Colin Borchert had 10 rebounds.
Mississippi State does not play again until Saturday, Dec. 15. The Bulldogs travel to Chicago to meet Loyola-Chicago in a rematch of the famous 1963 game.