SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) Ben Howland finally got his wish for Mississippi State to play with a halftime lead. Now he wants the Bulldogs to do a better job protecting that margin when they've got it.
Gavin Ware scored 25 points to help Mississippi State beat Missouri State 84-70 in Sunday's seventh-place game at the Puerto Rico Tipoff.
Freshman Malik Newman added 14 points to lead the Bulldogs (2-3), who salvaged a win out of the trip to San Juan by shooting 70 percent in the opening half and leading by 20 - an unusually fast start for a team that had trailed at half in each of its first four games.
They blew much of that lead as the Bears (0-4) twice got as close as four midway through the second half but kept control and eventually stretched the lead back out to double figures.
''We haven't been up 18 at halftime yet,'' said Howland, in his first year with the Bulldogs. ''Hopefully we have that experience again some day when we can try to then put two halves together. This is a first.''
It hadn't been an easy week for the Bulldogs, who lost to Southern at home on Monday then boarded a plane for Puerto Rico the next day. Once here, they watched Miami roll to 105 points in a blowout win in Thursday's opener then missed two shots inside of 10 feet on the final play of Friday's 74-72 loss to Texas Tech.
The Bulldogs finally played from in front Sunday, with Ware scoring 11 to lead a 19-for-27 shooting performance that had Mississippi State up 45-27 at the break. Ware finished 12 for 16 on the day, capping a strong three-game performance in the Tipoff.
Missouri State hadn't had an easy time of it, either. Like Mississippi State, the Bears started with a blowout loss, theirs 93-59 to No. 22 Butler. Then they erased most of an 18-point before falling to Minnesota 74-69 in Friday's consolation bracket, a performance that had coach Paul Lusk happy with his team's fight but being quick to add, ''no moral victories.''
He was left in the same position Sunday.
''We've got some kids that won't quit, but we just have to improve,'' Lusk said. ''We dig ourselves some holes.''
Missouri State: Chris Kendrix scored a team-high 17 on 6-for-7 shooting. ... The Bears shot 54 percent after halftime after a 9-for-28 (32 percent) opening half. ... Camyn Boone scored 13 despite playing through a left ankle injury.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs cooled in the second half but still finished at 59 percent for the game. ... Mississippi State scored 22 points off turnovers. ... I.J. Ready had 13 points and 11 assists.
The Bears are off to their worst start since going 0-6 to open the 1980-81 season.
Ware averaged 20 points on 28-for-40 shooting (70 percent) over three Tipoff games. And Howland wants to keep feeding the 6-foot-9 senior the ball and getting him ready for extra defensive attention.
''When Gavin's in the post and he's 1-on-1, he pretty much scores every time,'' Ready said. ''I think most of the field goals he did miss, he probably had two or three defenders around him.''
Aside from the Bulldogs' hot shooting, Lusk pointed to his team's 11 first-half turnovers as reasons for the big deficit.
''When we don't turn it over and we execute and share it and play the right way, good things happen,'' he said. ''But when you're turning the ball over at that rate in the first half, it's hard to get anything done.''
Missouri State hosts William Woods on Friday.
Mississippi State hosts Tennessee-Martin on Saturday.
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