December 24, 2014 10:20:24 AM
STARKVILLE -- Rick Ray's family can now breathe easier. So can Mississippi State's third-year men's basketball coach.
On the heels of a five-game losing streak, MSU enjoyed its best shooting performance of the season Tuesday night and limited Jacksonville to 28-percent shooting from the field in the second half to cruise to a 70-47 win, MSU's first victory this month.
"I know my family will be happy that I won't be walking around like a zombie on Christmas Day," Ray said. "I know my wife and kids will be glad I will be in a good mood because of this win."
Ray and the Bulldogs (6-5) were all smiles after outscoring the Dolphins (4-10) 34-30 in the second half to turn a 36-27 halftime lead into an easy win. It was MSU's second home game since Nov. 24, and the team's first victory since Nov. 28.
Junior guard Fred Thomas (game-high 16 points) expressed a sense of relief.
"Coach Ray wanted us to play with more confidence, and it was important to be aggressive tonight," Thomas said. "The biggest thing has been to stay positive, to keep from hanging our heads. We are just working hard and trying to get better every day."
Thomas had eight points in each half. The Jackson native was 2 of 6 from 3-point range as part of an 8-of-15 effort from behind the arc. MSU entered the game shooting 24 percent from 3-point range as a team.
"I thought our shooters did a good job of anticipating the play and getting balanced and ready for the shot," Ray said. "That has been a problem, guys not being ready to shoot and missing because of it. They were down and ready tonight."
Thomas, point guard I.J. Ready and junior forward Travis Daniels (13 points) each had two 3-pointers.
"Repetition ... just working on it," said Daniels of MSU's improved stroke from 3-point land. "We were in a slump, but we worked on it a lot. Shooting after practice, rebounding for each other. It felt better tonight."
While MSU played its best offensive game in weeks -- it topped the 60-point mark since a 75-50 victory against St. Louis nearly four weeks ago -- the defense also was sharp. After a sluggish finish to the first half, the Bulldogs clamped down in the second half, limiting Jacksonville to a 7-for-25 performance from the field and 20 points.
"At the end of the first half, I think they scored on 10 of their last 12 possession, and we can't go into the half like that," Ray said. "In the second half, I thought we did a much better job contesting shots, getting in shooters' faces."
Jacksonville's top scorer, shooting guard Andris Mister, was 4 of 14 from the field and had 13 points.
On the other side, MSU shot 56.5 percent from the field. Senior forward Roquez Johnson added 11 points. Johnson and Daniels shared the team lead in rebounds with eight.
MSU will play host to McNeese State on Dec. 30.
"I thought this was huge for us going into this long break," Ray said. "Now we can go enjoy Christmas and when we come back, get ready for the next phase of our season."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat
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