STARKVILLE – Florida International’s full-court press gave Mississippi State fits early on in Tuesday’s season opener.
But the Bulldogs were finally able to maneuver their offense around it for a 77-69 victory despite committing 18 turnovers.
“I knew coming into this game how hard it was going to be with the style that they play,” said MSU coach Ben Howland.
MSU is without starting point guard Nick Weatherspoon for the first 10 games of the season due to an NCAA suspension so the Bulldogs are relying on senior Tyson Carter and freshman Iverson Molinar to bring the ball up the floor while Weatherspoon is out.
Carter committed eight turnovers against the Panthers’ press but made up for it with a game-high 23 points, seven rebounds and six steals. The Starkville product was 8 of 16 from the floor and 5 of 9 from 3-point range.
“I’ve been working (at point guard) all offseason but it’s different when you get into a game,” Carter said. “I’ve got to make sure I get into shape. Thirty minutes is a lot of minutes to play and fatigue contributed to some of those turnovers and some of those turnovers were just mental mistakes that I’ve got to correct.”
Molinar started and scored 14 points in his collegiate debut and only turned the ball over once in 30 minutes.
All-SEC selection Reggie Perry was held to a single point until the 14:01 mark of the second half but finished with 13 points to go along with seven boards.
“I just felt like I wasn’t playing hard enough in the first half,” Perry said. “I felt like I was coasting a little bit so during halftime I just locked back in and came out and played a little bit harder.”
Neither team was able to create much separation in the opening half until State went on a 20-5 run in the final 7:34 to take a 40-30 lead into the locker room.
“We got off to a slow start and it seemed like every loose ball they were getting the first 10 minutes of the game,” Howland said. “There were air balls falling into their laps. Every bounce that could’ve got wrong for us, went wrong those first 10 minutes it felt like.”
The Bulldogs finished the game shooting 54.4 percent and forced FIU to turn it over 17 times.
Mississippi State will continue its homestand against Sam Houston State on Friday at 7 p.m.