By Chris Talbott/The Associated Press
OXFORD — Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury and his point guard Dee Bost sat down for a heart-to-heart talk after the Bulldogs’ disheartening loss to Western Kentucky earlier this week.
Turns out Bost is a good listener.
The sophomore point guard tied a career high with 25 points and fueled Mississippi State’s 80-75 upset of No. 14 Ole Miss on Saturday with fearless drives to the basket.
“After Western Kentucky, Coach Stansbury told me, ‘Get to the hole, get to the hole,’ and we did that,” Bost said.
Bost scored 17 points in the second half for the Bulldogs (13-3), drawing fouls as he attacked the paint against the Rebels (12-3) in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
The Bulldogs trailed 42-37 at halftime, but used runs of 8-2 and 13-2 to rally from as much as nine down for their 10th win in 11 games.
His drives led to free throws and the Bulldogs hit 7 of 8 during the second run, finally taking a lead on a layup in transition from Bost to make it 61-59. Bost hit 9 of 12 free throws and overall Mississippi State was 22 for 33 in the game, far outpacing Ole Miss, which attempted just 13.
“Dee can fall in love with his jump shot sometimes,” Stansbury said. “That’s OK, he’s a good shooter. But the thing you’ve got to do more than anything else is pressure that rim. When you pressure that rim, it forces the defense to collapse on you and opens up a lot of things.”
Ole Miss’ struggles on defense turned into struggles on offense as well. A missed shot invariably ended up in Bost’s hands within a few seconds and he often caught the Rebels out of position, either trailing or moving in too late to block his path.
“We didn’t get back in transition,” Ole Miss guard Chris Warren said. “Dee Bost is a good player. He took it 94 feet on us. It’s devastating, but we’ll bounce back.”
Mississippi State held both of Ole Miss’ leading scorers below their averages. Warren was nearly two points off his average, leading Ole Miss with 15 points, and Terrico White had nine, 8.3 points off the mark. Ravern Johnson added 15 for the Bulldogs and Kodi Augustus had 13 and 12 rebounds.
“When they didn’t play well offensively, it didn’t affect them on defense,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “They battled. And that was something we didn’t do.”
The Bulldogs opened the game with a 20-8 lead after hitting five of their first eight 3-point shots, but the Rebels began hitting 3-pointers and answered with a 27-8 run that included four 3s to take the halftime lead.
They quickly cooled off in the second half, though, as Mississippi State settled into a pattern. Augustus hit 4 of 4 free throws in the Bulldogs’ first second-half run, then Bost hit 6 of 6 in the second.
While he was driving the lane, the Mississippi State defense settled into a 2-3 zone for the most part and Jarvis Varnado took over in the middle of the court.
Varnado wasn’t much of an offensive presence with nine points, but he had 12 rebounds and six blocks and altered six or seven others. He was most effective in the final minutes when he had a pair of key blocks, including one on White with 16 seconds left and the lead at 77-73.
“The last block, it was sweet because I knew Terrico had to take that shot,” said Varnado, who is 61 blocks shy of the NCAA career record. “It’s easier to get it when you know it’s coming.”
Read more in the NEMS Daily Journal newspaper Sunday.