Whatever type of basketball Mississippi State played, the Rebels really did play a little harder and mostly a bit better. The result was an upset of the #18-ranked Bulldogs and ending three years of home court frustrations. Ole Miss (12-6, 2-2 SEC) ended a three-loss streak in Tad Smith Coliseum, as well as a five-win run in the rivalry for State (15-4, 2-2 SEC) and Stansbury.
"There's no easy games on the road in the SEC," the coach reminded. "Particularly coming here. It's a very different atmosphere and team, and tonight they had both going."
They being a Rebel squad that was just tired of Dog domination, though winning Coach Andy Kennedy was reading off the same script as his MSU counterpart. "I know it's something to write about, but that doesn't mean much to me. It's the next game. It's about being in the moment and trying to protect your home floor."
Ole Miss did that well, and did it the hard way. They held the Bulldogs to 38% shooting overall, including 10-of-29 accuracy at the three-point line. In fact almost half of State's 61 total attempts came from beyond the arc as Stansbury's squad was flustered more often than not by timely Rebel use of zone or matchup defenses. Ole Miss also won the board battle 38-35, not a lot in itself but with a 11 to 5 margin in second-chance points telling.
Taking charge on the glass was Reginald Buckner with 15 rebounds, contributing to several of his game-best 19 points. But the junior forward was able to manufacture other baskets on his own in a brilliant 8-of-10 evening marred only by lack of free throwing. He was 3-of-10 at the stripe, ironically the main reason Ole Miss didn't seize complete control until the last 90 or so seconds.
Kennedy could live with that. "I thought he was tremendous and gave us a great presence. It was Reg's best game of the season and when we needed him most."
"Buckner was the difference in the game tonight," Stansbury agreed. "They got more from him than I'm sure they anticipated." A fair comment considering Buckner had averaged under seven points previously. He got enough support inside from forward Terrance Henry with 12 points, while guards Nick Williams and Jarvis Summers added 17 and 12 markers.
Four State starters were in double-digits led by center Renardo Sidney's 17 points, though he was 6-of-12 getting them and took some shots his coach didn't care for at interesting junctures. Top Dog Arnett Moultrie had to work for his 10 points and dozen rebounds, ten of them on the defensive end as Rebels clogged the paint constantly. The 16-point average scorer took just eight shots in 35 minutes.
"They switched (defenses) around and it limited his touches some," Stansbury said. Moultrie wasn't available for comment, nor were Sidney and guard Dee Bost (15 points and six assists). They would not leave the bus despite coach and administrator requests, leaving freshman Hood to speak for everyone. It was a good choice as the rookie scored 13 points with four assists but also fouled-out trying to handle a long, tall front line.
"I just got in a groove, I started out missing some shots but I got in a rhythm and kept shooting the ball," Hood said. "I wish I didn't get in foul trouble because I thought I could get whatever shot I wanted."
Ole Miss certainly got some shots off early that State didn't really expect. A team with just nine made-treys in their first three SEC games knocked down a trio, two by Summers, to grab a 12-3 lead. Hood could see a different squad than what had been scouted on tape.
"Once they hit some shots and got some tip-slams, the crowd was into, so I knew they were ready to play," Hood said. "And they just kept a rhythm throughout the game."
State had a few flashes of their own rhythm, after Moultrie ended a scoreless stretch with a tough turnaround jumper. After missing nine of the first ten shots the Dogs hit seven of the next eight with guard Jalen Steele hitting two treys off the bench. Stansbury had started Brian Bryant instead to hopefully let Steele shake off a recent slump and it did help as State caught up 21-19.
But rushed misses by Sidney in transition ruined the rhythm and Ole Miss built a 38-33 halftime lead. Sitting either Sidney or Moultrie with two fouls each left room for Buckner to crash the glass and score consecutive putbacks. In the second period Buckner got an unlikely high banker to drop along with one of his made free shots. That was exception to his rule though and a series of missed one-pointers limited the Dog deficit to nine points until the defense cranked up.
A top-trey from Moultrie at 10:00 did settle things a bit, but it was another five minutes before the Bulldogs got within a basket as Bost hit from the wing to make it 56-53. At 2:00 it was still a three-point margin when Henry drew the foul and this time both free shots went home. Hood got a set wall to shoot from behind and his trey-try somehow rimmed out, as did a Bryant tip. Down 66-60 Bost tried a wild driving layup that had no chance, and ensuing long shots by Sidney and Bost were off as well.
"We took some bad shots," Hood said. "We cut it down to four and came down and took a quick shot when we should have settled down and got the ball to Arnett or Sid." Rebels other than Buckner got the rebound-pass to draw fouls and hit freebies that made a pair of late Bost treys meaningful only on the stat sheet. He was 4-of-15 overall shooting and 4-of-10 at the arc.
Part of this was caused by Ole Miss committing the 6-9 Henry to chase Bost for stretches, which did hamper the guard. This didn't explain or to Stansbury excuse an over-reliance on outside shooting even with the Rebels playing lots of zone. "Ole Miss switched it back and forth," Stansbury said. "We just never got it going totally in the flow of the game." And often when the chance was there, Dogs would speed themselves up and force the trey-try.
"Give Ole Miss credit, I thought they played extremely well," said Stansbury. "They spurted out early in the game and we fought back from behind all night long, just never got over the hump." Naturally the coach wished his team had been playing in the Hump, where they won a pair of home games over the weekend. Instead State fell to 0-2 in SEC road tests.
And Saturday comes another as the Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt for a 6:00 (ESPN2) tip. Memorial Coliseum has long been a house of horrors for State squads, but then that's more history and not necessarily a factor in this road trip. Hood knows what matters more than statistics and records.
"We have to play with toughness, we have to get stops consecutively. (Opponents) been getting baskets too easy on us and it's something we have to work on."