STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Mississippi State's Gavin Ware didn't get off to the best start Thursday against North Carolina Central. He missed his first two shots, but it got much better the rest of the way.
The senior center never missed again.
Ware scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead Mississippi State to a 71-48 win over the Eagles to close out the Bulldogs' non-conference schedule.
Ware shot 5 of 7 from the field and was 6 of 6 at the free-throw line.
''My first two shots were bad shots for me,'' said Ware. ''I was off-balanced and just rushed them. But I stayed with it and Coach told me not to rush things and to pass it back out if I didn't have anything. So I slowed things down and settled down.''
Malik Newman added 15 points, including 11 in the first half, for the Bulldogs (6-8). Quinndary Weatherspoon scored 14 points, with seven rebounds and four assists.
North Carolina Central shot 24 percent from the field and made just 5 of 30 3-pointers, but outrebounded the Bulldogs 48-38, led by Jeremiah Ingram with 12.
Rashaun Madison and Patrick Cole each scored nine points for the Eagles (5-9).
''I was really pleased with our defensive performance except for the number of second shots we gave up,'' said Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland. ''But we held them to 23 percent for the game so the zone was good for us. We were trying to keep the ball out of the paint but we will still be doing a lot of blocking-out drills in practice.''
Mississippi State never trailed and led by as many as 31 points in the second half.
The Bulldogs outscored the Eagles 40-18 in the paint and held a 17-1 advantage in points off turnovers. However, North Carolina controlled the offensive boards 25-6 and scored 21 second-chance points.
Mississippi State was in control from the start, largely due to North Carolina Central's cold shooting in the first half. The Eagles missed 12 of their first 13 shots and that helped Mississippi State jump to a 15-4 lead in the first nine minutes of the game.
The Bulldogs held the Eagles to 17 percent shooting in the first half and led by double digits for much of the opening half. Meanwhile, Mississippi State shot 52 percent in the first half, including four 3-pointers.
''We are really playing unselfishly and it's been like that the last three games,'' said Howland. ''The guys are making the extra pass. I love the 18 assists on 28 baskets tonight.''
Mississippi State led by as many as 21 points in the first half and was up 34-17 at halftime.
''I thought the two freshman guards (Newman and Weatherspoon) had good games for us and Gavin almost had another double-double for us,'' Howland said. ''So those were good things to see.''
Mississippi State: Senior center Gavin Ware has been in double digits in all 12 games this season. Thursday's meeting with North Carolina Central was the first-ever for the Bulldogs. Senior Fred Thomas now has 943 career points and is just 57 shy of becoming the 37th player in school history to reach 1,000 career points. Thursday's win gave the Bulldogs their second, three-game winning streak of the season.
North Carolina Central: Mississippi State was just the third Southeast Conference team North Carolina Central has face in its basketball history. The Eagles have also played Arkansas and South Carolina. Thursday's game at Mississippi State marked just the second time in school history that the Eagles played a game on New Year's Eve.
Mississippi State hosts Texas A&M on Wednesday to open the SEC schedule.
North Carolina Central travels to East Tennessee State on Monday.