No. 21 MSU Set to Face Ole Miss in Oxford

STARKVILLE, Miss. - As the SEC's Western Division men's basketball race begins to tighten up, the 21st-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs travel to Oxford to meet the Rebels of Mississippi Wednesday evening. Tip-off time for the 225th series renewal of this long-standing in-state hoops rivalry is slated for 7 p.m. at Tad Smith Coliseum on the University of Mississippi campus.

Ranked 21st nationally in this week's Associated Press wire service poll and 22nd in the current ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, coach Rick Stansbury's Bulldogs are 12-4 overall and 2-3 in SEC play on the season after completing a successful week of league competition with home wins over both South Carolina (64-48) and LSU (67-64) this past Wednesday and Saturday, respectively.

As has been the case in recent hardwood meetings between the two in-state foes, Wednesday's first of two State-Ole Miss encounters this season figures to be a battle pitting two of the SEC's top defensive teams. Heading into this week's league action, the Rebels and Bulldogs are ranked first (56.1 ppg) and second (61.6 ppg), respectively, among the SEC's team leaders in scoring defense. MSU and UM also stand first (39.0%) and third (39.9%), respectively, in field-goal percentage defense for all games. This year's second State-Ole Miss match-up is set for Saturday, Feb. 15, at MSU's Humphrey Coliseum (6 p.m. tip-off).

State's SEC Player of the Year candidate Mario Austin continues his quest to become the 25th player in MSU basketball history to reach the 1,000-point mark for career scoring. The reigning SEC Tournament MVP enters this week's road action with 983 career points and needing 17 points to join the school's elite group of 1,000-point scorers, topped currently by former Bulldog all-Americans and NBA All-Stars Jeff Malone (2,142 career points) and Bailey Howell (2,030). Austin leads this year's Bulldog club in scoring (17.2 ppg) and rebounding (8.0 rpg), in addition to shooting 55 percent from the field and 78 percent from the line.

Junior co-captain Timmy Bowers remains the Bulldogs' top perimeter threat, averaging 14.9 points per contest (11th in SEC) and ranking ninth in the league in both 3-pointers made per game (2.12 treys/game) and three-point field goal percentage (41.0%). Senior forward Michal Ignerski rates as MSU's No. 3 scorer (10.5 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (6.1 rpg) on the year after averaging 12.5 points (10-of-16 FGs) and 8.5 rebounds during last week's home wins over South Carolina and LSU. Steady senior co-captain Derrick Zimmerman continues to run the State show from his point guard position by averaging a solid 9.3 points, 4.8 assists (5th in SEC), 4.3 rebounds and 1.9 steals (T-6th in SEC) an outing.

Presently in sole possession of second place in the SEC's Western Division race by virtue of their current three-game league winning streak, the Mississippi Rebels are 12-4 overall and 3-2 in conference action after claiming a 73-54 home win over Arkansas this past Saturday. Ole Miss opened its current three-game homestand with an impressive 76-57 triumph over Alabama last Tuesday in Oxford. Guided by fifth-year head coach and former Rebel standout guard Rod Barnes, UM is powered by the junior forward tandem of Aaron Harper and Justin Reed, who average 14.6 and 14.2 points per game, respectively. Reed also leads the Rebels in rebounding (6.1 rpg), while senior guard David Sanders contributes 9.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and a team-leading 3.5 assists a contest.

With the Bulldogs owning a 123-101 all-time series lead over the Rebels through the years, these two rivals have played to a 7-7 series deadlock dating back to MSU's 1995-96 Final Four campaign. In the last 10 State-Ole Miss hardwood meetings, the average margin of victory has been only 6.1 points per game. With both head coaches in their fifth seasons at their respective schools, MSU's Stansbury owns a 5-3 career record versus Barnes' Rebel ballclubs. The Bulldogs' most recent win over Ole Miss in Oxford came during Stansbury's second season at the State helm by way of a 61-59 road victory over the Rebels in 1999-2000.

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