It wasn't. Not after Bost, in his second game back after a pre-SEC season suspension, struck for a team-best 25 points including the go-ahead free throws at 2:38. From there the Bulldogs held the home team scoreless and padded the winning margin with four free throws from forward Kodi Augustus. This let Mississippi State even their SEC record a week into league play and improve to 9-7 overall.
Ole Miss fell to 12-5, 0-2 SEC, and dropped a fourth-straight game in the intrastate rivalry; their third-consecutive at Smith Coliseum. Coach Rick Stansbury has had an oversized share of success in the series, improving to 19-7 against Rebel teams with seven wins on the road. This one mattered more than most.
"I'm telling you, it's important to me because I know it's important to our team, with what we've been through," said Stansbury. "In this situation right now and what we've been fighting against, coming off a home loss and playing a very good team, you need something good to happen."
It did. Not only did Bost show up much closer to full-force than in the opener five days ago, Renardo Sidney just plain showed up. Held to a single bucket by Alabama in his own SEC debut the sophomore center broke loose for 24 points; 15 of that in the decisive second half as Sidney overpowered the Rebels both inside and outside.
Sidney was not made available for post-game comment but coach and teammate were very willing to discuss his much, much better second SEC outing. "Before the game we had a talk, go play with all the heart you've got and just keep fighting," said Bost. Which Sidney did, taking makeable shots this game and making 9-of-12. "He played great, give him credit," Bost said. "It just made me try to keep up with him."
"Sid was much more effective in that paint, and hit some jumpers," said Stansbury. "I thought he controlled his emotions very well, I thought he played with some emotion. And he made a huge improvement, he attacked that rim." By doing that Sidney opened himself for longer shots, such as the pair of second-half three pointers that threw the Rebels defense entirely off their gameplans.
Speaking of plans, the Bulldogs opted to throw a 2-3 zone at Ole Miss all evening. Not that it was a surprise. "We thought they would zone us," Rebel Coach Andy Kennedy said. And at first Rebel shooters Chris Warren and Zach Graham seemed to have the range to beat it as they knocked down treys. In the process senior Warren even set the Rebel longball record, adding seven to his career total while Graham hit three others.
"Our zone did two things," Stansbury said, as State dominated rebounds and free throws alike. "Those are huge stats and we won both those categories."
The Bulldogs were out of initial synch as their first three series produced turnovers. Sidney soon found his footing and powered for a couple of dunks and a three-point play as the inside attack worked well. Only, the Rebels hit their first four trey-tries and led 12-9 as a result. Ole Miss gunners had to cool off a little and that allowed the Dogs to make up lost ground, as Augustus scored his own miss and Bost finished a break for a 15-14 lead change. Graham flipped it right back with free throws and a slow zone left him open to hit from the corner again. After an extended dry stretch for both sides it was Warren striking out top to make it 23-17 at eight minutes.
State finally got a longball to fall, by Riley Benock at 6:45, and Bost added another the next time down. Down by seven after UM's Nelson converted a four-point play, Bost banked in a rebound and before the buzzer stuck a trey that had the Dogs within 34-32 at intermission.
"We saw they couldn't guard ball screens very well so we tried to take advantage of it," Bost said.
Bost's influenced only grew after halftime as he drew three fast perimeter fouls around hitting a screened three. Then when Sidney made good on his first college trey the Bulldogs were ahead 38-36. Warren responded in-kind to cycle the lead back the other way. He added more treys with his coach calling for time after the second up 49-45. This was while Stansbury was giving Sidney a break, and backup Lewis and Augustus contributed to damaging MSU turnovers.
Sidney returned to hit another threefer, but Warren matched and converted a Bulldog turnover into a layup, 54-47 margin, and Stansbury timeout at 9:45. Getting the ball down low to Sidney worked well, and Johnson finally ended his perimeter drought at 7:45. Two more minutes later it was Sidney rolling to the rim for a goal-and-free throw that had the deficit down to a single point; then at 4:15 Johnson threw in three for a 61-60 lead.
The scoreboard flipped three more times with Bost free throws at 2:38 giving State the advantage. This time, for good. Warren and Graham missed arc-attempts on the same series, and Graham a shorter try the next time down. The Bulldogs took time to talk at 1:02, and made a hash of things with a fumble barely recovered and another timeout. Bost had a good corner look and left it long.
But after their own timeout Ole Miss set something up--that probably was not meant to be a corner attempt by Williams. "From my vantage point I thought he had a step-in shot he needed to take," Kennedy said. "Obviously airballs are easy to rebound." Augustus indeed did and his two free throws made a three-point lead. Warren did get one off and missed, with Augustus again going to the line to seal things. It helped ease a tough game for the forward on offense and with turnovers.
"He struggled catching the ball and round that rim," Stansbury said. "But he did two things that help you win on the road, he rebounded and made free throws." And Bost did something of everything, such as his eight assists and six rebounds.
"Its' obvious Dee had much better rhythm tonight than his first game," Stansbury said. "And he'll only get better. But he changed and controlled the flow of the game tonight."
State even succeeded despite another poor evening for Johnson, who settled for six points against an opponent he has had great success against before. That made winning, on the road at that, all the better under the early-season conditions. "The win is very sweet," said Stansbury, who saw a team entirely different than the one that sputtered through a contentious road trip before New Year and fell flat in the SEC opener. This one went a long way to balancing a lot of books.
"They came here to play with some heart and play with no fear," Stansbury said. "Because it's obvious we had some fear last game. I never felt from minute-one there was any fear in our guys."
The Bulldogs have a short turnaround before hosting Auburn in a 2:00 Sunday game.