"I felt Ole Miss dis-respected us when they said it was the ending of a streak and beginning of a new one," forward/center Charles Rhodes said. "So we showed them this streak was going to continue, our own."
The win, State's eighth-straight over UM on the home court, improved this season's record to 13-12 and 3-9 SEC, while Ole Miss left town 14-11, 4-8 SEC.
The Rebels might as well have departed the court midway of the second half. The Bulldogs closed the first period on a 16-4 run, then began the last half with a 19-3 surge that settled the outcome with 15 minutes left on the clock. And still the home team barely slowed down, as they had begun the re-match with something to prove to January's victors.
"They were on the court talking a lot, and we wanted to shut them up," said guard Dietric Slater. "They were saying we were going to lose, it was going to be just like last time. We didn't quite think it would be like that, but we didn't want to tell them. We wanted to show them."
Rhodes, who enjoyed the win so much he earned a second-half technical for shouting after a dunk in traffic, was more blunt. "We beat the crap out of Ole Miss."
Did they ever. The 29-point margin of victory was State's largest in the series since a 94-52 rout, also at The Hump, back in 1995. Until today Coach Rick Stansbury's most lopsided win over the rivals had a 80-54 whipping two years ago.
"Tonight it belonged to the Bulldogs," said Stansbury, who raises his own record in the rivalry to 13-4. "And I'm proud of our kids for that."
The coach was proudest of Slater's contributions. The junior, who had eight points in the loss at Oxford, turned in the performance of his career with 16 points and 13 rebounds. A 41% shooter in SEC play this season, Slater hit 7-of-11 attempts against the Rebels, most coming from within two steps of the goal.
"I knew I was going to have a game like that eventually," said Slater. "But it was great it was on this team, and that we won by so many."
And, that so many teammates got involved in the fun. Jamont Gordon had a team- and game-best 17 points with eight rebounds, and four assists from the point guard position. Rhodes added 15 points with five boards and only had to play 20 minutes to do it. But it was the scoring from Slater and guard Reginald Delk, with 16 points of his own and five three-point goals, that Stansbury focused on.
"Everybody that played this game added to it," the coach said. "We needed our bench because Ole Miss plays a lot of people, so we made a decision we'd play a lot of people." And this time the backups contributed, scoring 14 points with 12 rebounds. "Everybody was looking for the open man and everybody was contributing," said Reginald Delk. Thus Gordon's 29 minutes were the most any Dog had to turn in this time, a marked contrast to typical State games.
Stansbury had an indication Friday that his team would be ready for a rematch with the Rebels. For that matter the preparations began in the locker room at Baton Rouge after Wednesday's defeat by LSU. Instead of going over that game, Slater said, Stansbury started talking up Saturday's contest. "He was like OK, let's put that behind and from this point on we're focusing on Ole Miss."
By Friday the coach wondered if he'd done too good a job stressing this opportunity to set the season-series straight. "We practiced and I had to cut things back just because we had so much energy." As it turned out the Bulldogs had plenty energy and emotion left to burn by game-day. "Now, if had been somebody else, would we have played that hard?" Stansbury said. "But tonight was a special effort and we had to have a special effort."
For their part the Rebels tried something special initially, opening up in a zone defense and a 1-3-1 set at that. Slater had no trouble getting loose under the goal for a quick layup, and after Reginald Delk drained his first trey they went back to the more typical man-to-man set. Slater still beat it for a spinning layup, and Rhodes free throws had State in front 9-2. Meanwhile UM's first six turns against the Bulldog man-defense produced three misses and two turnovers.
But when Stansbury began subbing, as planned, the flow changed. A steal-and-layup by UM guard Bam Doyne sparked a 9-1 Rebel run, with forward Londrick Nolen looping in two points and sticking a perimeter three at 12:55 to put Mississippi in front 11-10. State got Rhodes back on the court after a two-minute break and he turned a bounce-feed from Gordon into a dunk and MSU lead. Still the Bulldogs had lost their early rhythm and it showed. Nolen again came to the fore, driving for one layup and snow-birding off a loose ball steal to dunk it and put UM back ahead, 19-17, and draw a Stansbury timeout at 9:20.
It was the last Rebel lead, too, as Slater slashed in for a catch-and-putback, then on an inbounds play scored and drew a foul. He created another three-point play at 6:24 on an inbounds pass, and guard Jamall Edmondson spun inside for a banking basket. This was not the same State team that for weeks had settled too quickly for perimeter shots. These Bulldogs were attacking the goal and beating UM's defense repeatedly, especially Slater who had a dozen points by halftime. "Sometimes we get carried away and don't play to our strengths," he said. "We played to our strengths today."
Doing so also opened up the perimeter for Reginald Delk, who missed his first trey-trey but rang home a pair of longballs in the first period. "Coach has been telling me I needed to get 10, 12 points. At the end of the LSU game I felt it and I knew I was feeling it this game." His second trey put State up by 34-22.
At the same time the Bulldogs were playing even better on the other end of the court, disrupting UM's ball movement out front with the 6-4 Gordon hounding 6-1 Rebel point guard Todd Abernathy. "Coach told me yesterday Abernathy was the head of the snake and if we wanted to win I had to come out and play great defense on him." Abernathy did not score in the first half and had just three points all day. And while Gordon ball-hawked out front, Rhodes and Slater doubled-up on 300-pound Rebel center Dwayne Curtis and kept big forward Jeremy Parnell from getting anything going inside."
"We didn't let them get in their plays and didn't let them get in their groove," said Rhodes. As a result, after Curtis stuck in a rebound basket at 7:53 Ole Miss didn't produce another point until guard Trey Hampton hit a short jumper at 1:46, and the Bulldogs led 36-22 at the break. Still there was no feel-good talk in the locker room.
"When we went in the halftime coach told us we had to stay with the same intensity," reported Gordon. "And we did." Because after Abernathy got his only points of the day, on a three-pointer, State reeled off 19 unanswered points starting with a Reginald Delk trey. Slater attacked and scored, and when UM fell back to guard the goal Delk was left alone for a very long, very good jumper that had Coach Rod Barnes calling for time at 16:18.
He could stop the clock but not the bleeding, because after Gordon missed a second free throw State rebounded and Delk hit another bomb. Gordon turned a steal into a flying layup and three-point play, and Rhodes got a rebound to drop as the difference reached 57-29. For the first five minutes of the half Mississippi was just 1-of-10 shooting and nearly shut down on the glass at each end. When Slater turned a loose ball into a layup the difference hit 30 points for the first time, which probably played a part in Rhodes' technical after he stuffed a dunk and howled his delight a bit too loudly and longly.
"I just had a lot of emotion for this game," the Jackson native grinned.
Of course he was only starting the victory celebration eleven minutes minutes early, because the Bulldogs clearly had this one clinched. Gordon popped for a pair that gave State the longest lead of the game, 33 points, a margin that still held by 4:54 when Michael Boler sank a corner-three for a 79-46 score.
"Mississippi State played great," Barnes said. "We didn't play as well, especially in the second half. It was one of those days when things don't go right for you and they go for the other team."
Nolen had a pair of treys and led the Rebels offensively with 14 points, while Doyne added a dozen. Mississippi was stifled into 34% shooting overall, 6-of-21 from the arc; while the Bulldogs hit almost 55% from the field and were 8-of-17 on trey-tries. Both averages were SEC-season bests. State also claimed a 42-28 victory on the backboards, comparable to the dominance on the scoreboard.
"I've been saying for the last couple of weeks our team was getting better," Stansbury said. "We put a total game together, both defensively and offensively." Which is how the Bulldogs were able to celebrate Throwback Day with an old-school whipping of the arch-rival.
"We came out with a lot of energy," said Gordon. "We weren't going to let them beat us here."