STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) - With 10:40 left in the first half on Tuesday night, Mississippi State's Jalen Steele took a nasty fall and left the arena en route to the hospital.
Steele, the leading returning scorer from last year's squad, left his team with only a 2-point lead over Florida Atlantic and a roster of mostly newcomers.
But Steele's injury sparked a Bulldog rally that would eventually lead Mississippi State to a 78-58 victory behind a combined 33 points by Roquez Johnson and Fred Thomas.
``When he went down, we all said we're going to do it for Jalen,' Thomas said. ``We picked up the intensity and played harder.'
Mississippi State (1-1) went on to lead 43-26 at the half and the issue was never again in doubt.
``The guys knew they'd have to come together and make a run,' Ray said. ``I think that's good for our guys to know they had that in them. ``
The Bulldogs forced 27 turnovers and shot 49.2 percent (30 of 61) from the field to give Rick Ray his first victory as head coach.
``It's good to win, whether it's the first one or the last one,' Ray said. ``I just like to win.'
Steele received eight stitches in his head, and his status for next week's trip to the Maui Invitational is unknown.
FAU (0-3) shot 33.3 percent from the field (21 of 63) and trailed almost the entire game. Mississippi State has held both its opponents so far this season to under 37-percent shooting.
``We want to be a team that forces turnovers and that's hard to play against,' Ray said. ``The key to us being better offensively is to create more things defensively. ``
Johnson scored a career-high 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting and had 5 rebounds.
``I'm a high intensity guy,' Johnson said. ``I want to help the team and get everybody moving.'
Thomas scored 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting and had 5 steals. Craig Sword added 11 points and Gavin Ware chipped in 10 points.
Thomas scored only 4 points in Mississippi State's season-opener last week at Troy.
``Against Troy I was pretty much off,' Thomas said. ``I got back in the gym the next day. I had to get some shots up. That carried over to tonight.'
FAU guard Greg Gantt led the Owls with 17 points on 6-of-16 shooting. Cavon Baker added 11 points.
Mississippi State opened the game on an 8-2 run and forced 18 turnovers in the opening half. Using a motion-based offense, the Bulldogs led 43-26 at the break and went on an 18-3 run in the second half to seal the win.
``Everybody knows when coach calls motion, we're doing motion,' Ware said. ``Motion, more motion, nothing but motion.'
Already starting the season shorthanded due to roster attrition from last year's Rick Stansbury-led squad, Mississippi State played its entire roster in the game after Steele went down. Only two players didn't hit double-digit minutes.
Mississippi State has now won three straight home openers.
The Associated Press News Service
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