Mississippi State hopes to hold serve at home against Ole Miss at 8 p.m. tonight on ESPN2 and continue to make Humphrey Coliseum a house of horrors for the Rebels.
The Bulldogs have won five straight at home in the series in a venue where Ole Miss left victorious only three times in the last three decades.
“Everybody traditionally plays better at home compared to playing on the road,” said MSU coach Rick Ray. “But when you add the rivalry part of it, you know that you’re going to have a great fan base and the fans will come in here supporting you and with more hatred in their veins when they walk in. I think it ends up making a difference and provides a little bit more energy to our guys.”
Ray has been able to defend his home court during his previous two years at the helm. The Bulldogs defeated Ole Miss’ 2012-13 NCAA Tournament team using only seven scholarship players in a 73-67 win. State was also able to claim a 76-72 victory in Starkville last season with the Rebels leading scorer, Marshall Henderson, suspended.
The Bulldogs own a 93-24 record against Ole Miss in Starkville and lead the Southeastern Conference’s oldest rivalry 141-110. State will try to avoid being swept by the Rebels for the first time since the 1987-98 season.
“This is a huge game,” Ray said. “You don’t want to go through your whole summer knowing that you got swept by your rival.”
MSU has four players on the roster who hail from the Magnolia State and understand how important this contest is to its fan base.
“That’s a big game, one of the biggest games of our season,” said Gavin Ware, a junior forward from Starkville. “They’re our rivals. If you aren’t ready for this game you need to have your heart checked.”
It will be the second time the two programs have met on the hardwood this season. The Bulldogs squandered a 13-point lead in the second half in a 79-73 loss in Oxford.
The Rebels’ Jarvis Summers scored all 22 of his points in the second half and State hopes to do a better job of containing him this time around.
“He’s one guy who doesn’t get sped up,” Ray said. “A lot of point guards when they get pressured will make fast decisions and wrong decisions. He’s the type of guy that when pressured he’ll stay calm and makes the right decision. That’s his biggest attribute as a player.”
State junior guard Craig Sword scored a game-high 27 points in the previous outing against Ole Miss in Oxford. In six career games against the Rebels, Sword is averaging 14.3 points.