By David Brandt/The Associated Press
STARKVILLE — Mississippi State had a 13-game losing streak, only seven scholarship players and every reason in the world to roll over for Mississippi on Saturday in front of a two-thirds filled Humphrey Coliseum.
Instead, the Bulldogs pulled off a stunning 73-67 victory over their archrival that ended nearly two months of misery.
“We just found a way,” Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. “It seemed like the last (few minutes) lasted longer than the whole second half combined. I just wanted the clock to go.”
Borchert scored a career-high 21 points, Gavin Ware added 12 and Mississippi State finally enjoyed a win for the first time since a Jan. 12 road victory over Georgia.
When it was over, several players and Ray celebrated with the crowd, which needed some good news after a trying season that’s included plenty of injuries, suspensions and defections.
Now it also includes a galvanizing — and wholly unexpected — victory.
Mississippi State (8-20, 3-13 Southeastern Conference) led almost the entire game, pushing back every Ole Miss rally in the second half. Roquez Johnson returned from a three-game suspension for breaking team rules to score 10 points and grab five rebounds for Mississippi State.
Ole Miss (21-8, 10-6) lost for the sixth time in 10 games. Murphy Holloway led the Rebels with 22 points and 19 rebounds. The SEC’s leading scorer Marshall Henderson had 16 points, but shot just 4 of 19 from the field, including 3 of 18 from 3-point range.
The setback puts a huge dent in Ole Miss’ NCAA tournament hopes.
“Right from the jump, Mississippi State was playing like the team that was fighting for their NCAA tournament lives,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “I have no explanation for that. I’d like to sit up here as the leader of this program and offer some poignant answer or explanation, but I have none. It’s inexcusable. I have no idea how that happens, frankly.”
Ole Miss jumped out to an early 5-0 lead, but then it was Mississippi State that was the aggressor.
Borchert hit 3 of 4 3-point attempts on the way to 11 first-half points, helping the Bulldogs build a 34-30 halftime lead.
The 6-foot-8 junior was terrific for most of the night, finishing from long range and close to the rim. After he hit the early 3-pointers, Ole Miss played him tight, but then he would drive to the rim and convert.
Borchert made 7 of 10 shots from the field and added seven rebounds and three assists.
“Coach always tells me, once I get a few 3s, they’ll be flying out towards me,” Borchert said. “So just fake and go to the rim. I just listened to coach. He’s a very smart man.”
Mississippi State pushed its lead to 45-36 with 15 minutes left after Borchert’s nifty reverse layup in traffic, but then the Rebels methodically started a comeback, pulling within 45-43 on a Jarvis Summers basket with 10:53 remaining.
That’s when Reginald Buckner made arguably Ole Miss’ biggest mistake, earning a technical after being called for a foul. That earned the 6-foot-9 senior his fourth personal foul and a spot on the bench just when it looked like the Rebels might be gaining some momentum.
Mississippi State went nearly seven minutes without a field goal midway through the second half before Borchert hit a jumper from 15 feet and Trivante Bloodman made a 3 to give the Bulldogs a 52-45 advantage with 7:30 remaining.
The loss might be the fatal blow to Ole Miss’ hopes for an NCAA tournament at-large bid. It also puts Kennedy squarely on the hot seat after seven seasons filled with plenty of victories but no NCAA tournaments unless there’s a breakthrough in the next few weeks.
Ole Miss had a 17-2 record and was the 16th-ranked team in the nation just a month ago, but has now dropped six out of the past 10. Those losses include setbacks against South Carolina and Mississippi State, two of the bottom three teams in the league.
Against the Bulldogs, the Rebels were a mess of poor decisions and bad shooting.
Henderson, who has galvanized Ole Miss all season with his long-range shooting, couldn’t hit from 3-point range even though he had several wide-open looks. Holloway was the only consistent performer for the Rebels, dominating on the glass for his 37th career double-double, but it wasn’t enough.
The Rebels shot just 25 of 74 (33.8 percent) from the field.
Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP
Read more about the game in Sunday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.