|No. 18 Mississippi State opens season at home vs. Austin Peay|
No. 18 Mississippi State goes into its season opener Friday against Austin Peay with two primary objectives, according to coach Ben Howland -- improve the team's shooting and get valuable contribution from newcomers.
Howland, who begins his fourth season with the Bulldogs after going 25-12 last year, was pleased with both the shooting and the freshmen in his team's 88-57 exhibition win over Georgia Southwestern State on Sunday.
Freshmen forwards Reggie Perry and Robert Woodard scored 13 consecutive points to give Mississippi State a 30-5 lead right before halftime. They combined for three 3-pointers in that span.
"Those guys are going to be important mainstays," Howland said. "Part of the reason is that you look at Robert and Reggie, I haven't seen many freshmen that look like that. They don't look like your normal freshmen. They have men's bodies right now. They've been blessed and have good genes. Good Bulldog genes."
Perry (6-foot-10, 245 pounds) and Woodard (6-7 and 230) play multiple positions, which gives Howland flexibility with his lineups.
Perry made his lone 3-point attempt and went 5-of-7 from the field, finishing with 12 points.
"I was a little nervous before the game, there being a crowd there for the first time," Perry said. "But when you start playing, it just all goes away."
Woodard had 10 points, making 2-of-3 shots from beyond the arc.
"If they're open, total confidence that they're going to knock down threes," said Howland, whose team struggled from that range last season, ranking last in the SEC at 31.1 percent.
Austin Peay, in its second year under coach Matt Figger, is coming off a 114-53 rout Tuesday of Oakland City by shooting 59.2 percent and outrebounding its opponent 49-26. The 61-point margin of victory was Austin Peay's largest since a 112-52 win against Fontbonne on Dec. 11, 2010.
Sophomore wing Terry Taylor led seven double-figure scorers for the Governors with 21 points and also had nine rebounds.
The Governors made 12 3-pointers in 25 attempts, led by reserve guard Jarrett Givens, who drained 4 of 9 shots from beyond the arc and finished with 16 points.
The trip to Starksville, Miss., for Friday's game begins a month-long, seven-game road trip for Austin Peay. The extended road swing for the Governors will be the longest such stretch of games for the Governors in the regular season since the beginning of the 2010-11 season, when they opened their schedule with nine straight games on the road.
Austin Peay is looking to improve on last season's 19-15 record, which earned Figger the Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year honor.
"We have some potential," Figger said. "We got seven kids back from last season. A lot of those kids helped us win games last year. We're fortunate that we've got five of those seven guys score 20 points or more in a contest. I don't know many teams in the country that has five guys on their team that's had 20 points in a college game."