By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Whether it’s a psychological factor or simple on-court superiority, Mississippi State has something on Ole Miss.
The Bulldogs have beaten the Rebels four consecutive times, and MSU coach Rick Stansbury is 11-1 against Ole Miss at Humphrey Coliseum. That’s where the teams will meet again today at 12:30 p.m. for a key SEC Western Division showdown.
Both squads enter the game with 5-6 league records and are tied with Arkansas for second place behind Alabama. State (13-12 overall) won the first meeting, by a 69-64 count in Oxford on Jan. 13, and now would be a good time for Ole Miss (17-9) to get over the hump at the Hump.
When asked why MSU was such a tough matchup, junior forward Terrance Henry said, “To be honest, I don’t know. I guess they take it more personal than we do, but we’re going to try to change that (today).”
The Rebels appear to be playing better basketball than when the teams last met. After an 0-4 start in SEC play, they’ve gone 5-2, including wins against Kentucky and Arkansas.
“I hope we’re better than the night we played them. It seems like a lifetime ago,” said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy, who’s 3-6 against MSU.
Senior guard Zach Graham had a career night in Wednesday’s 90-59 win over Auburn, hitting seven 3-pointers en route to a 30-point outing. His emergence is crucial, especially with senior point guard Chris Warren struggling of late: He’s shot 6 of 20 from the floor, including 2 of 10 from 3-point range, over the last two games.
Down low, Henry and sophomore Reggie Buckner have stepped it up. Henry had 14 points against Auburn, while Buckner has recorded three or more blocks in six of his last seven games. Those two both scored in double figures against Kentucky, Arkansas and Auburn.
“As the season has progressed, I feel like me and Reggie, and coming in with Stead(man Short), I feel like we’re getting better down low offensively and defensively,” Henry said.
Seeking a spark
MSU has lost two in a row, blowing a 19-point lead and Auburn and coming up short, but playing better, at Kentucky on Tuesday.
Point guard Dee Bost has become a bit turnover-prone, averaging 4.6 miscues over the last five games. But he’s also averaging 17.5 points and 5.1 assists on the season.
State got good play, finally, from senior Ravern Johnson, who scored 21 against Kentucky off the bench, where he remains since returning from a two-game suspension last week.
His replacement in the starting lineup, Jalen Steele, scored a career-high 17 in Lexington against the Wildcats.
Steele said Friday he didn’t know if he’d start again today, but he’s willing to help however he can.
“I can give the team a spark. Defensively, rebounding, scoring – anything to help the team out,” he said.
Steele’s spark has helped, and whether as a starter or reserve, it’ll be needed again today.
Even though he’s a freshman who hails from Knoxville, he understands the import of today’s game.
“It’s big. We’ve got to come out focused and ready to play this game. Ole Miss is our rival and a lot of people expect us to win this game.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571