The effort first-year Mississippi State coach Rick Ray promised this season paid off Saturday as the Bulldogs held Ole Miss to 33.8 percent shooting and ended a 13-game losing streak with a 73-67 win.
The Humphrey Coliseum crowd of 5,853 was sparse enough that visiting Ole Miss fans could have been easily heard – had they been able to cheer much.
Instead, they watched the Rebels allow the Bulldogs (8-20, 3-13 SEC) to catch the ball deep into the post, and the MSU bigs took it from there.
Gavin Ware, who had foul trouble in the Rebels’ 93-75 win in Oxford and got off only two shots, responded with 12 points and six rebounds.
Colin Borchert hurt Ole Miss off the dribble but more importantly joined a growing list of face-up forwards who have stung the Rebels from outside. Borchert was 3-for-4 from 3-point range and led all scorers with 21 points.
Marshall Henderson was never able to shoot Ole Miss into the game. He scored 16 points but was 3-for-18 from the arc.
Murphy Holloway had 22 points and 19 rebounds, but didn’t score enough when the game was in the balance. He had eight points in the final 3 minutes, 29 seconds in the Rebels’ frantic comeback bid.
“Right from the jump, Mississippi State was playing like the team that was fighting for its NCAA tournament life,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “I’d like to be able to sit up here as the leader of this program and give some poignant answer or explanation. I have none. It’s inexcusable.”
Kennedy says he has a complete understanding of what this means to the Rebels’ NCAA hopes.
“We all realize what just happened,” he said.
After a 6-0 SEC start Ole Miss lost for the sixth time its last 10 games. The Rebels (21-8, 10-6 SEC) have been the subject of debate among NCAA tournament “bracketologists,” some having them in the field prior to Saturday, some not.
The general opinion was that Ole Miss needed to win its final three regular season games to be in the conversation.
This week’s opponents, Alabama and LSU this week figured to be the most difficult challenges – not an MSU team with a 240 RPI that Ole Miss had beaten by 18 in Oxford and had lost its last two games by a combined 71 points.
“There was no way I thought we were going to lose this game,” Holloway said.
MSU players took great joy in playing the spoiler.
“Coach told us, ‘Y’all have a chance to hurt their NCAA tournament chances.’ I said, ‘Yeah, we might as well try to hurt other teams’ NCAA chances. We’re just fighting for what we’ve got right now. This was big-time,” MSU guard Jalen Steele said.
Ray backed off “get the rival” as a motivational tactic.
“If that was their motivation it certainly wasn’t mine. I want guys to be motivated by going out and playing good and winning,” he said.