By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The 246th basketball meeting between Ole Miss and Mississippi State has story lines all over the place.
There are new faces at MSU, old faces at Ole Miss, a new villain in Marshall Henderson, a Rebels team with a chance to begin a new course in the series, a Bulldogs team trying to survive.
While it can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, one opinion both sides share is this:
“It’s no big deal.”
MSU coach Rick Ray and most of his players have not participated in the rivalry, but Ray says everybody gets it.
Ole Miss forward Murphy Holloway gets it, and in spite of the Bulldogs’ recent success, says it’s just about the next game for the Rebels.
It’s an 8 p.m., tip at sold-out Tad Smith Coliseum. It’ll be seen on CSS.
Ole Miss is expected to welcome back senior guard Nick Williams, its top reserve, who missed the Rebels’ 78-64 loss at No. 2 Florida with a foot injury.
“Right now, at this point in our season, it’s another game we have to win, an SEC game, to reach our goal,” Holloway said.
The teams split last year’s two games, each winning at home. The Bulldogs (7-13, 2-6 SEC), on a six-game losing streak last year, have won seven of the last 10 and 21 of the last 28 against Ole Miss.
The Rebels (17-4, 6-2) are trying to get back on track after following a program-best 6-0 SEC start with two losses and falling from the rankings.
Ray says the last thing the Bulldogs need for tonight’s game is to focus on emotion.
“I’m not going to get into how important this game is for the fan base and things like that,” Ray said. “If you just put it on emotion, then if you don’t have emotion and things don’t go well, where do you turn?” Ray asked. “You better have a way to execute as far as Xs and Os.”
With a roster marked by injuries, attrition and youth, the Bulldogs found a way to get close last week but were unable to finish in home losses to Texas A&M and LSU. The Aggies won in overtime, the Tigers in an improbable finish with 1.4 seconds left.
The Rebels’ fast start has them appearing in early NCAA tournament projections. Ole Miss last played in the NCAA tournament in 2002.
There is work to be done if they’re going to break the streak, and Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy is hoping to get more work from his senior frontcourt.
Holloway, though still averaging a double-double, has seen his scoring decrease of late. He’s just 9 for 30 from the floor the last two games.
Buckner was really strong against the Bulldogs last year, getting 19 points and 15 rebounds in an Ole Miss win in Oxford, then 15 points and nine rebounds as MSU won in Starkville.
“Murphy going 9 for 30 the last two games, shooting the ball 10 feet and in, obviously we’re not going to be very successful with that. Reg has not scored double figures in the last two games.
“We made a concerted effort of going to him. We tried to give him touches on the block early. He just wasn’t as effective as we need him to be. Those two guys are huge for us, and they know that,” Kennedy said.