After letting Mississippi State scrabble back from nine points down to force overtime, Ole Miss made sure another wasn’t necessary. The Rebels scored the first ten points, eight of them by guard Breein Tyree, and eased away with an 87-82 final.
The Bulldogs suffered a sweep of the season series and fell to 14-13, 5-10 SEC with three regular season games remaining. State has lost five straight and Tuesday’s margin was just about exactly an average of the previous four.
“It’s tough,” forward Mario Kegler said. “We’ve been on this losing streak for many now, fighting everyone and competing with everybody. We just can’t get over that hill.”
State did at least get atop the hill for a moment. Trailing 63-54 inside three remaining minutes, the Bulldogs frantically chipped away. It helped the Rebels missed all their field goal tries, including two not-really-necessary treys, a couple of free throws.
Still State had to make its own luck down the stretch. Down 66-61 with only 24 ticks, guard IJ Ready was allowed a layup. One missed Rebel free shot later Ready himself was fouled and made both, then the team’s only senior helped trap Terence Davis into a corner turnover at 6.7 seconds.
Ready dribbled across-key, saw a seam and dashed for the tying layup at 1.0. It was the top of the hill…
…and Tyree made sure the home team slid back down the other side. He hit a trey to open overtime, converted a Kegler turnover into a classic three-point play, and added free throws. Justas Furmanavicius completed the 10-0 run with free throws at 2:23.
“We did so much to get back and put it in overtime,” Bulldog Coach Ben Howland said. “We should have seized that momentum.” Instead the Rebels grabbed it away. It was the 250th career win for Rebel Coach Andy Kennedy. For stretches of the evening though he did not see it coming out this or his way.
“There’s no way that you’re supposed to win that game,” Kennedy said. “But I’m proud of my guys.” His seven scholarship guys, as Ole Miss was playing short-rostered in the rematch. Since two of them were Tyree and forward Sebastian Saiz, with their combined 47 points, that was enough.
Saiz played up to all-league standards with 23 points and 10 rebounds. His shooting was a bit off at times but Saiz was 11-of-11 on the stripe and able to get there seemingly at will. Guard Terrence Davis added 12 points with 10 more boards, and Deandre Burnett was good for 10 points.
“You expect Saiz to have a good game,” Howland said. The defense on Burnett and Marcanvis Hymon (four points) was solid to the coach. Tyree, though, was the card State could not trump, especially in overtime.
“He had the bigs he came off of,” Howland said. “And we didn’t stay in front of him. The first half we got stretched out too much.”
Yet Mississippi State led by a bucket at halftime, too. This was where Howland was truly frustrated because it ought have been more. Ole Miss was cold early, 5-of-23 shooting at one point and only 24% for the whole half. The Bulldogs were 44% by comparison and just one rebound behind.
What kept it close was 13 turnovers, several not close to being forced, and missing all six free throw chances. Center Schnider Herard was 0-of-5 himself there. “Frustrating, to play such good defense and only have a two-point lead,” Howland said.
Even then the Bulldog coach saw a turning point, when his team was up 41-36 at 14:00 and Ole Miss missed a long shot and had another turnover. State didn’t expand at all, the Rebels scored seven-straight, and eventually built the big lead that was erased but not overcome.
“Beating Mississippi State at Mississippi State is always great,” said Tyree. “A great atmosphere out there tonight, and it does a lot for our team. We bounced back and got a big win on the road.”
Ready had missed round-one in Oxford with injury. In his last rivalry match of the career, he had a team-high 20 points with five assists and three steals. Before fouling out Kegler had 15 points and eight rebounds, while guard Quinndary Weatherspoon had 14 points and eight boards also with four assists. Guard Xavian Stapleton added 11 points with another nine rebounds.
But the team as a whole was just 14-of-25 free throwing, which left all wondering what difference just hitting a couple more might have meant. So did too many of the turnovers that had little or nothing to do with the Rebel defenders.
“We got a little too cute with the ball in the first half,” Howland said. In the second and in overtime more so, “Some were no-look passes. We have to make better decisions.”
Ole Miss still shot just 37% for the game and 22% at the arc, and only had one less turnover. If not pretty, it was pleasant to leave Humphrey Coliseum with a third-straight win in the series and seventh out of the last eight meetings.
“We played hard,” Kennedy said. “We didn’t play well, but we gutted it out.” The home team coach was left to ponder another what-if outcome for February, this one the closest and toughest to take of them all.
“After fighting all the way back and not hold it, is really disappointing,” Howland said.