By Chris Burrows
Mississippi State is having trouble winning at home. Ole Miss is having trouble winning on the road. Somebody has to snap out of it.
“They haven’t played as well as they would’ve liked. I’m sure of that,” said Ole Miss coach Rob Evans, whose club visits Humphrey Coliseum tonight for the tipoff at 7. “But these kinds of rivalry games tend to bring out the best in teams.”
Mississippi State (10-3, 2-2, No. 21 AP Poll) is coming off consecutive home losses to Arkansas-Little Rock, Kentucky and Alabama. Ole Miss (5-7, 0-3) has won only once in five tries on an opposing home court. Included in that streak are losses at Kentucky and Georgia by 30 and 36 points, respectively.
“My concern is we aren’t playing well,” Mississippi State coach Richard Williams said. “I’m still realistic about our expectations and the SEC season. That doesn’t concern me. What concerns me is our team.”
The Bulldogs are led by All-America candidates Erick Dampier (15.9 points, 9.6 rebounds) inside and Darryl Wilson (17.9 points) outside. Along with Russell Walters, a strong 6-9 forward, Evans is concerned about the match-up problems.
“This game is all about match-ups. Erick is going to give everybody in the country match-up problems,” Evans said. “But Walters is the one that did a lot of damage to us last year. We’re not a big team and their size really presents problems.”
Williams agrees, but is quick to point out the Rebels make match-ups difficult with Ansu Sesay. The 6-9 sophomore has averaged 14 points and 9 rebounds over the past three games.
“Sesay is 6-9 and he can play the 3 (swing), 4 (low post) or 5 (high post) positions. He’s really coming into his own,” Williams said. “Match-up problems go both ways and they’ve got some options that can give us and everybody else problems.”
Despite Sesay’s recent hot streak, the Rebels are led by freshman guard Keith Carter, whose 16.2 points and 6.2 rebounds are team highs. Ole Miss has 10 players averaging at least 11 minutes per game, including seven freshmen or sophomores.