Rick Ray is making the best of what he has.
But one thing he does have is an All SEC caliber player in Craig Sword.
Rick Stansbury had a class of 5 players signed before he
was fired retired after the 2011-2012. Two of the point guards that were going to be counted on asked for releases from their LOIs, and they were given those releases. One of those players, Josh Gray, may very well come back to haunt us next year at LSU. The other three decided to stay on board. They were Fred Thomas, Gavin Ware, and Craig Sword.
Thomas and Ware have done well considering they very well could have been redshirted their freshman seasons. Since the program was left in a pile of ashes after Ray got there, all three had to play immediately. Sword (the W is pronounced by the way) has had a much easier transition.
Sword had a solid freshman campaign. He averaged 10.5 points a game and was the leading scorer for the team to go along with 3 rebounds a game. He struggled from the field though, shooting 40% for the season. He scores by getting to the rim. He only shot 19% from three point range last year, and was a mediocre free throw shooter at 64%. The most important thing he needed to do this year was become a more efficient scorer.
He has done that. His three point percentage and free throw percentage has not changed much this year. He shoots 20% from beyond the arc and is at the same 64% from the charity stripe. Where he has shown a remarkable improvement is his field goal percentage. It is up to 53% this year. That’s a great number for a post player, it’s amazing for a player that plays on the perimeter. He has gotten more aggressive this year, and it shows. He already has almost 100 free throw attempts after having 145 for all of last year.
He has shown a remarkable growth in maturity in his game this year. He knew entering this year, that State was not going to have a ton of scoring options, and he has put that burden on himself. Mississippi State’s lack of pure scorers means that they are not going to create many scoring opportunities in the half court. Rick Ray has preached defense to his players, and Sword has responded. Sword averaged less than 2 steals a game last year, but this year, he is fifth in the league in steals, averaging just over two a game. This allows him to get out in transition and create easy scoring opportunities.
Another sign of his growth as a player is that he isn’t forcing plays that aren’t there. He had 75 assists to 127 turnovers last year. This year, he has 37 assists to only 45 turnovers this year. Part of that is helped by the addition of a true point guard in I.J. Ready, but is also a sign of Sword valuing possessions more.
His biggest sign of growth came in the game this past Saturday against Ole Miss. He was having a difficult time finding his shot, as almost all players do from time to time. That didn’t keep him from finding ways to score. He went 0-7 from the field against Ole Miss, but still led the team in scoring by shooting 15-18 from the free throw line. He stayed aggressive and still continued to try to get to the rim.
Much was expected of Sword when he set foot on campus. He was the Alabama player of the year, and he has lived up to those lofty expectations. I don’t know if Mississippi State is going to be able to sneak into a post season tournament this year, but if they do, Craig Sword will play a pivotal role in getting them there.