By Parrish Alford | NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The Ole Miss-Mississippi State basketball series began to tilt decidedly in the Bulldogs’ favor in the latter seasons of Rod Barnes’ time as head coach at Ole Miss.
After replacing Barnes, Andy Kennedy got off to a good start in the series, winning three of his first five meetings, but it’s a five-game losing streak to the in-state rival that Kennedy will try to break now.
The next opportunity is Wednesday night at 8 when MSU visits Tad Smith Coliseum.
The last five losses to MSU have come by an average margin of 6.6 points, though the Bulldogs won by 13, 71-58, on Feb. 19 of last year in Starkville, the most recent meeting.
Kennedy says he doesn’t sense the the Bulldogs fight harder in the Ole Miss game than they do against other opponents.
“No, I don’t think so. We obviously understand when we play the in-state rival we’re also in the same league, and it’s unique. In college basketball you have 30 some-odd games, and I think we both prepare as if we’re in SEC play,” he said. “We have two days to prepare as Mississippi State does. We’ll get together a game plan we think will put us in position to be successful, then we have to go out and execute that plan. I’m sure they’ll do the same.”
MSU leads the all-time series 138-105.
Expecting a zone
Junior guard Nick Williams believes the Rebels can expect to see more zone defense until they prove they can shoot teams into other defensive plans.
Auburn packed it down tight, and the Rebels struggled much of the game until hitting some big shots late – one a 3-point basket by Williams to force the first overtime.
“We’ve got to get back in the gym and practice making shots. That’s all we can control, control ourselves, making shots, making shots, seeing the ball go in the rim. They’ll eventually fall,” he said.
The Rebels are last in the SEC in 3-point shooting at 27.0 percent.
The Bulldogs have typically been a man defense team under Rick Stansbury.
While offense was an issue, defense was still solid against Auburn. Ole Miss held its opponent to less than 40 percent field goal shooting for the fourth time in five games, the second straight SEC game.
The Rebels’ 39.4 percent field goal defense ranks fourth in the SEC behind Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas.
Players believe their defense gives them a chance to win games. That’s certainly how it played out at Auburn, as the home Tigers were unable to take full control of the game in spite of the Rebels’ shooting woes.
“That’s really what our team is. We don’t lay down on defense. If we play defense, we’re going to win most of our games,” freshman point guard Jarvis Summers said.
Williams says players know their strengths and play to them.
“That’s our MO. Playing tough defense and taking whatever we can get on the offensive end,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep fighting.”