STARKVILLE, Miss. -- 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.