Through a stretch of top SEC teams and more losses than he would like, Rick Ray has at least found something he wasn’t sure he had early in the season: strong play at the forward position.
Fast forward a bit, and freshman Gavin Ware and junior college transfer Colin Borchert have improved drastically, both on offense and defense, giving MSU the presence it needs at the forward positions.
“In practice we work on feeding them the ball,” freshman guard Fred Thomas said. “It really opens things up on the outside for our game.”
Ware has risen to the occasion against upper-echelon competition, notching 16 points against Florida Saturday (a team high), then against Ole Miss he led the team in rebounding while only playing four minutes in the first half.
“That was impressive what he did in Florida against Patric Young,” Ray said of Ware’s effort against UF’s group of bigs, “because that’s a grown man.”
Seeing his freshman go up against some of the bets not only in the conference but in the nation gave Ray optimism for his future.
“He’s going to be an All-SEC type player by his junior season,” Ray said.
Versus the Rebels, it was a little different.
“A big part of the problem against Ole Miss was Gavin Ware only played four minutes in the first half,” Ray said. “Our only inside threat was gone.”
And that’s the difference – as well as balance – between Ware and Borchert.
Ware is the big body in the paint, banging around the rim, getting tough buckets and rebounds.
Borchert is a fit for Ray’s vision of someone playing the four spot in his offense. A big body who can shoot. In short, a match-up problem.
It took a little time, but Borchert has finally become that, scoring double-digits in his last five-straight games.
Borchert said earlier in the season part of the problem was his defense. Ray, who preaches stringent D, wasn’t ready to trust Borchert on that end of the floor.
As he figured out defense, he got more minutes. As the minutes went up, so did his scoring as Borchert got into a rhythm.
Though it seems something improved recently.
“It’s simple,” Ray said. “He’s shooting. He’s coming in and getting shots up on his own.”
Extra shooting has been something Ray likes to see from his players, and it seems to be paying dividends.
“I don’t mean to simplify everything, but he’s getting a lot of rapid shots up,” Ray said.
Against the big bodies of the SEC, Ware and Borchert’s emergence has been a welcome sight for Ray and the Bulldogs amid struggles.
Each has their struggles, of course, as Ware has not done particularly well at the free throw line and Borchert has not provided as much scoring in the paint as Ray might like.
But their improvement is indicative of much of what MSU has going, despite the losses.
Freshman guard Craig Sword, along with Thomas, has matured, developed and become more comfortable over the last month.
Walk-ons Tyson Cunningham and Baxter Price have found themselves not only on the floor, but able to contribute.
As individuals improve, so do others, and thusly, the entire team.
“I got a really good group of kids,” Ray said. “The only thing is I don’t have enough of them.”