By Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Ole Miss fought back from one slow start but could not survive two.
Ravern Johnson scored eight points in the first 4 minutes, 20 seconds of the second half, and Mississippi State went on to defeat Ole Miss 71-63 before a season-high crowd of 9,401 at Humphrey Coliseum on Thursday night.
The Rebels were down 6-0 in less than a minute at the game’s outset after 3-pointers by Johnson and Barry Steward but regained composure and led briefly before trailing 33-29 at halftime.
The second half began with an MSU 3-point play by Kodi Augustus that included the third foul for Ole Miss center Murphy Holloway.
It was Johnson, though, who began to find good looks against the Rebels’ zone. He knocked down two quick 3s, and his back-door bucket at 15:40 gave MSU a 44-36 lead.
“We knew we had to throw the first punch early, and when Stew and me hit those 3s, it gave us confidence,” Johnson said.
Confidence was an important factor for an MSU team that had lost four of its last five. Johnson called the game a “must-win.”
“Our kids were ready to play. I felt that,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “I could see tension in their eyes, a good tension.”
Augustus followed with another three-point play off an offensive board, and the Bulldogs had their first double-figure lead at 47-36.
The Rebels’ (17-7, 5-5) foul trouble expanded, and so did the lead for MSU (17-7, 5-4). With still 12 minutes to play, Ole Miss post players Holloway and Terrance Henry each had four fouls. Henry eventually fouled out.
Owning the tiebreaker
State swept the regular season series against Ole Miss for the first time in five years. The Bulldogs lead the Rebels by a ha;lf-game in the Western Division with MSU owning the tie-breaker.
The Rebels had a chance to cut the lead to three with under 5 minutes left, but Eniel Polynice couldn’t finish a drive to the rim, and the Bulldogs got a dunk from Romero Osby with an assist from Dee Bost on the other end. It was 62-55 with 4:20 remaining.
“Ravern got in a rhythm for them, hit some shots, and that makes you extend,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “We’re forced to go small, and that puts a premium on making shots, and 6-for-26 (3-point range) is just not good enough on the road. Then, with our foul trouble some guys were tentative, and they took advantage of that.”
The Rebels didn’t come back but didn’t go away.
It was 65-60 with 46 seconds left, but Zach Graham’s 3-point shot was short, and Jarvis Varnado dunked after a long pass ahead.
Johnson led MSU with 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting, 4-for-7 behind the arc. Barry Stewart added 12 points,a nd Dee Bost 11.
The Bulldogs made the Rebels’ leading scorer, Chris Warren, a non-factor, limiting him to three points.
Eniel Polynice led Ole Miss with 14 points.
Kennedy was forced into more zone than he might have liked with foul trouble for post players Henry, Holloway and DeAundre Cranston.
The Bulldogs got some open looks and knocked down 6-of-14 3-point shots, half of them by Barry Stewart who had 11 points en route to a 33-29 halftime lead.
The Bulldogs played their share of zone too, not because of foul trouble, but because it was so successful against the Rebels in Oxford.
This time Ole Miss attacked the zone better and got some open looks around the edge of the lane.
The Rebels shot 44.8 percent with Terrico White coming off the bench and getting six points in 16 minutes.
Gaskins was 2-for-3 from 3-point range and led Ole Miss with eight points in the first half.
“It’s just a lack of concentration,” Polynice said of falling behind by double-digits in the second half. “Everybody has to come out with the right focus. It can’t just be five or six players. It has to be the whole team. When the whole team comes out with the right concentration and the right mindset, we’re unbeatable.”