ATLANTA – Mississippi State had the weight of a 13-game losing skid lifted off its collective shoulders Wednesday night with an opening round 82-68 win against Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament in Atlanta.
But the Bulldogs will not have long to celebrate their first win since Jan. 22. Waiting in the wings is six-seeded Ole Miss, who MSU faces at approximately 8:25 p.m. CT tonight.
It will be just the second meeting between the two Magnolia State rivals in the SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs won the previous matchup 73-64 in New Orleans in 2003.
State leads the overall series 141-108 and are 5-4 against the Rebels in neutral site games.
Rick Ray is 2-2 against Ole Miss in his two seasons as head coach of the Bulldogs.
The two teams split their regular season matchups with the Bulldogs winning 76-72 in Starkville on Jan. 11 and Ole Miss answering 82-63 in Oxford on Jan. 25.
Mississippi State has not lost to the Rebels twice in the same season since 1998 while Ole Miss was swept in the series during 2011.
The Bulldogs are now 29-50 all-time at the SEC Tournament while Ray improved to 2-1. MSU also improved to 9-8 inside the Georgia Dome, site of their 2002 SEC Tournament title.
Ray’s Bulldogs enter tonight’s contest with a 14-18 record shooting 44.4-percent from the field and averaging 67.8 points per game. State is shooting 30.4-percent from the outside and 66.4-percent from the charity stripe. Their opponents have scored 71.1 points on 45.3-percent shooting.
Sophomore shooting guard Craig Sword continues to lead the Bulldogs averaging 13.6 points after a 20 point performance against the Commodores on Wednesday. Sword is joined in the backcourt by fellow sophomore Fred Thomas scoring 9.1 points and freshman I.J. Ready adding 5.7 points and dishing out 2.7 assists.
Sophomore forward Gavin Ware is putting up 10.1 points and pulling down 7.1 rebounds while junior Roquez Johnson is contributing 9.7 points and 4.6 boards in the post.
Ole Miss won last year’s SEC Tournament and comes into this year’s event having lost six of their last eight outings to close out the regular season. The Rebels did knock off Vanderbilt 65-62 in Oxford last Saturday to finish 18-13 overall.
Andy Kennedy sports a 6-10 record versus Mississippi State during his eight years at Ole Miss.
The Rebels are shooting 41.6-percent from the floor and scoring 75.2 points. Ole Miss is knocking down 34.6-percent behind the arc and 69.7-percent from the free throw line. Their opposition is averaging 72.9 points on 42.2-percent shooting.
Kennedy’s squad features two second team All-SEC selections in senior Marshall Henderson (6-2, 177) and junior Jarvis Summers (6-3, 186). Henderson is scoring 19 points per game while Summers is adding 16.9 and won the Howell Trophy as the state’s top college basketball player.
Sophomore Martavious Newby (6-3, 210) joins Henderson and Summers in the backcourt chipping in 3.1 points.
Down low the Rebels are led by Venezuelan sophomore Anthony Perez (6-9, 213) scoring 7.2 points and grabbing 3.5 boards while Spanish freshman Sebastian Saiz (6-9, 233) is adding five points and 5.7 rebounds.
Tonight’s game will be televised on SEC-TV with Dave Neal, Jon Sundvold and Jeff Goodman on the call.