By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Ole Miss and Mississippi State meet tonight, and both are very different than they were more than a month ago in Starkville.
It’s a 6 p.m. tip at The Pavilion at Ole Miss, and the game will be televised by the SEC Network.
The Bulldogs won the first meeting 83-77 on Jan. 23. They had lost five straight going into that game, and things didn’t immediately turn around.
Now MSU (13-15, 6-10 SEC) enters the Rebels’ new arena for the first time having won four out of six and three out of four. No. 20 Texas A&M needed a couple of free throws to win 68-66 in the final seconds on Feb. 24 or the Bulldogs’ win streak might be four right now.
Ole Miss was without three starters – one of them Stefan Moody, the SEC’s leading scorer – when it lost at MSU. It’s not the only place the Rebels (18-11, 8-8 SEC) have lost. Ole Miss has been tough to beat at home, but shortcomings on the road have kept it out of the NCAA conversation.
“That game we played here in Starkville could have gone either way. We were fortunate to actually win the game, and that was our first conference win,” MSU coach Ben Howland said. “We have improved from that point, and we’re obviously going to be in for the test of our lives against Ole Miss on the road.”
Moody continues to lead the SEC in scoring though at times he has been slowed by the injured hamstring that kept him out of the first MSU game. It was the only game he’s missed. He was 5-for-13 from the floor and scored 15 points when Ole Miss lost 80-66 at Georgia on Saturday.
The Rebels are 6-2 in SEC home games, with losses to Florida and South Carolina.
Freshman Quinndary Weatherspoon, inserted into the lineup at mid-season, has been a big part of the Bulldogs’ turnaround.
All three finalists for the Howell Trophy will be on the floor tonight including Moody, MSU center Gavin Ware, and Weatherspoon, who comes in averaging 12 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists.
“He has really surged to the forefront as one of the best freshmen in our league,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “Confidence is a funny thing. Once that kid got his legs under him and confidence in his ability to perform at this level he has been tremendous.”