By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Humphrey Coliseum hasn’t been buzzing in a while, but Mississippi State hopes that changes today.
The Bulldogs, who are suffering through a 13-game losing streak, hope to end that skid when rival Ole Miss pays a visit (4 p.m., FSN).
The fact this is a home game for MSU doesn’t mean it has an advantage; in fact, the opposite may be true.
State (7-20, 2-13 SEC) has lost its last two games here by 42 points to Missouri and 41 points to Vanderbilt. And the crowds have been … lacking.
“Every away game we’re playing in, we’ve been playing a little better because we feed off the crowd,” forward Colin Borchert said. “That’s the biggest thing about Mississippi State, our fan crowd ain’t the best. If we could have more people out there, we’d be able to be fired up and ready for the game.”
Coach Rick Ray has been making the rounds on campus this week, visiting fraternity and sorority houses in an effort to drum up better fan support. T-shirts have been made, and with a forgettable season winding down, MSU is aiming to make a statement against its rival.
Ole Miss (21-7, 10-5) won the first meeting, 93-75, on Feb. 6 in Oxford.
“It’s big because we’re kind of embarrassed that we came down there to Ole Miss and got beat real bad, kind of got pushed around a little bit,” Borchert said. “We’re going to come out (today), and we’re going to have a lot more fire, we’re going to have a lot more aggressiveness and physicality to the game.”
Slowing down Marshall Henderson would help, too. The mercurial guard leads Ole Miss with 19.6 points per game, and he scored 31 in the first meeting with MSU.
In the Rebels’ 10 SEC wins, Henderson is averaging 23.0 points; in their five losses, that number is 16.6. Borchert said the key to guarding Henderson more effectively is to be physical with him when he comes off screens.
MSU also has to deal with a tough Ole Miss frontcourt; Murphy Holloway scored 24 on State last time.
The challenge today for State is great, especially given the sense of urgency Ole Miss must play with. The Rebels are trying to land on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble, and losing any of their last three games of the regular season would do severe damage to their postseason hopes.
Ole Miss is guarding against taking MSU too lightly.
“There’s no question it’s going to be a very competitive game. It always is,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “You hear the cliché, ‘Throw the records out,’ but honestly, I know they’ll be focused and excited about the opportunity.”
“We can’t overlook nobody,” Holloway said. “I expect them to still play hard.”