By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Maybe all Renardo Sidney needed to get him going was a hostile crowd.
In Mississippi State’s 69-64 comeback win over rival Ole Miss on Thursday, the 6-foot-10 sophomore scored 24 points, the most in his brief and turbulent college career. He also logged a career-high 36 minutes and, after looking to tire a bit in the first half and missing some point-blank shots, found the second wind that’s eluded him this season and scored 15 of his points after halftime.
This was the first true road game of the season for State, and Sidney embraced the challenge – and the hostility. Late in the first half, as the Ole Miss student section gave him the business, Sidney looked over and discreetly flipped them off.
Moments later, he checked in and knocked down a jump shot, and his game got better from there. He hit 9 of 12 shots on the game, including both 3-point attempts.
“I thought he controlled his emotions really well,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “I thought he played with some emotion. And that’s good. I hope he feeds and plays off wherever you’re at that way.”
Stansbury said he didn’t see Sidney’s initial greeting to the fans. As he left the postgame press conference, Stansbury told a reporter, “If you saw it, you handle it. I didn’t see it, so hey. I’ve seen enough, OK?”
This was just the fourth game of the season for Sidney and the first time he’s played two in a row. He was suspended twice for a total of three games in December – one game for an altercation in practice and two for the infamous brawl in Hawaii – and scored only two points on Saturday against Alabama.
Sidney got a couple of big dunks in the first half but killed Ole Miss from the outside in the second half, hitting a pair of 3-pointers, the second one tying the game at 43-43 with 13 minutes, 58 seconds left.
Not long after that, back on the bench, Sidney gave those same fans a salute.
“The experience he had the last game, he made a huge improvement to this game,” Stansbury said. “He attacked that rim, he got in that paint. … There’s no lesson – you can talk about it, (but) until you go through it and experience it, they don’t listen too well. Tonight, he understood it much better.”
Johnson still struggling
– Ravern Johnson, MSU’s top scorer, had another off night. He was held scoreless in the first half for the first time this year and finished with six points on 2-of-7 shooting.
Over the last six games, the senior has shot 27.3 percent from the floor and 19.1 percent from 3-point range. Stansbury will feel a lot better about his team when Johnson gets back on track.
“When we can get it all pieced together and working together as one, then we get better,” Stansbury said.
– Stansbury stuck with a 2-3 zone Thursday, a departure from his usual preference for man-to-man. But he thought it helped Sidney and Bost keep their legs fresh, and it kept the Rebels off the free throw line.
Ole Miss was 4 of 5 from the stripe.
“Our zone did two things: To go on the road and keep them off the foul line, a very good free-throw shooting team. And we didn’t foul,” said Stansbury.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571