About last night …
Mississippi State players admittedly say they care more about the Ole Miss game than many others.
Ole Miss players say it’s just another game on the schedule and seem to take pride in not putting too much stock into this game.
I completely understand the approach of keeping the rivalry in perspective. As Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said last night, you can’t make this the Super Bowl. After the football rivalry game there’s a break. Both teams can withdraw and catch a breath. He’s got to get ready for a 6:30 tip against Tennessee Saturday night – less than 48 hours after a big road win.
That all makes sense, but there’s a happy medium somewhere, and if Kennedy and the Rebels could get there it would remove some drama from this game and make it a little easier at a time when the Bulldogs have less talent and depth.
Here’s Stefan Moody on the Rebels’ first-half struggles: “I feel like it was a lack of focus. We weren’t playing defense like we usually do or knocking down shots like we normally do. That’s why they were up, and it was pretty tough.”
The Bulldogs didn’t lack focus. They were the more energized team at the beginning. They weren’t able to carry that pace throughout the game, but it doesn’t always end up that way. Most of the time at Humphrey Coliseum it hasn’t ended well for the Rebels.
If Ole Miss players recognized the game as something slightly different than just the next one on the schedule they would answer the bell with more focus and intensity, and that would lead to cleaner more efficient play.
Somewhere there’s a medium to be found on the rivalry aspect.
Moody was brilliant, knocking down shot after shot and eventually outdueling State’s 3-point threats of Craig Sword and Fred Thomas. State was 5-for-19 from 3 while Moody was 8-for-12.
While the Rebels were trying to gain separation down the stretch they stayed in that zone defense. State wasn’t able to shoot them out of it, but the Bulldogs were able to drive inside and get good looks or get to the foul line. That kept things close. Sword was 6-for-6 inside the 3-point line.
Ole Miss’ lack of focus really showed up in the first half in the rebounding. State’s energy was magnified in the paint where it was plus-13 on the glass with nine offfensive rebounds. MSU had 13 second-chance points to none for Ole Miss at halftime.
That’s because the game mattered more to the Bulldogs.
Kennedy told his players they were fortunate to trail by only five at the break. Indeed they were, and the kind of momentum State had in the first half is not easily toppled after halftime.
Kennedy’s call for greater efficiency from his “Big Three” of Jarvis Summers, LaDarius White and Moody was largely unanswered in the first half.
When he called for someone to step up down the stretch Moody answered that call. It’s not surprising. There’s a swagger and confidence in Moody that is different from the other two. Moody had not problem taking the shots. Fortunately he hit the shots, getting season-highs in both attempts and makes from 3-point range.
State was determined that Ole Miss would not win the game at the free throw line. The Rebels were 29-for-37 there in the 79-73 Oxford win. They were 7-for-11 last night, the second straight game they’ve show under 70 percent as a team.
With the Bulldogs clogging the lane they were taking away a big part of Moody’s game. He had to hit the long shots.
And he had to take them. This has become Stefan Moody’s team. It started out as Jarvis Summers, but everyone can see the transition that has occurred.
There were key minutes down the stretch last night that Summers wasn’t even in the game. There were key minutes that he was, too, and he hit a big floater off a called play with 2:54 left for a 63-60 lead.
Summers has scored more than eight points just once in the last six games. Sometimes that’s been about bad shooting. Last night it was about not taking shots. He only scored six points but only took seven shots, going 3-for-7 from the floor.
He’s not taking shots because he understands this is Moody’s team right now.
That was also reflected in the fact that backup point guard Terence Smith played 17 minutes, something that’s happening more and more.
“Terence played well. I thought he was really good for us with his decision-making, made a couple of huge shots in the first half which I think kept us afloat when we were struggling in all other areas. Down the stretch I still trust Jarvis. Even though he’s not having his finest moment he’s the guy that I still trust. We ran a play for him, he hit a tough floater, but Terence Smith has been very very valuable for us,” Kennedy said.
It’s OK for Moody to become the face of the offense, but it’s not OK for Moody to be the only scoring threat.
Smith and Sebastian Saiz both had eight points last night, each playing well at different times.
That’s not enough moving forward. Kennedy has named White and Summers as part of the Big Three, guys who need to play well throughout the game.
The Rebels will need that to finish this season with an NCAA at-large bid.