No Average Win

Ole Miss had beaten Mississippi State in men's basketball 105 times before its 75-68 win Wednesday night. This victory, however, was different. Unique in a sense.

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Sure, it lifted the Rebels to a 12-6 record that also evened things up in SEC play at 2-2. It gave them a fighting chance to keep some momentum heading to Georgia this weekend.

That's an important part of what happened against MSU, a team that was 15-3 and 2-1 coming in and ranked 15th nationally in one poll.

For sure it was that for Andy Kennedy, his staff and players.

For everybody else draped in red and blue t-shirts among the Tad Smith Coliseum crowd, it meant way more than just one win. That much is certain.

"I felt a lot of relief in this building at the end," somebody said in my direction after the final horn sounded. It wasn't an Ole Miss person either. It was an MSU man.

He was right. I thought as the game clock ticked down from 10 minutes to eight to six to four, with Ole Miss still leading, that Rebel fans couldn't take it again. Not at home after three straight losses to the arch rival in men's hoops. Not with three straight losses in football.

Not with the poking that had been dished out at them from Bulldog fans the last three years. And not just from the fan base, but from the university itself, that spread across the state.

It was noteworthy that Rick Stansbury and his players were asked about the rivalry aspect and their recent dominance in interviews this week.

That wasn't nearly the case for Andy Kennedy and his players. At a Tuesday afternoon media opportunity, it actually never came up.

The roles reversed themselves Wednesday night after the game. Kennedy was asked about it after the Rebels' win by a reporter who covers MSU on a regular basis.

Murphy Holloway
Bruce Newman

"I know it's something to write about," Kennedy said of what a win meant, given the recent history of the series. "I respect that. But I think Rick's said it and I've said it. It does not mean much to me. This is my 11th game (to coach) in the series. Every game is different players, different set of circumstances. These kids don't look at history of programs. That doesn't do a lot to motivate them one way or the other.

"It's about trying to be in the moment, trying to protect your home floor, trying to get back to 2-2 in the league."

Mission accomplished Wednesday night.

This really was about the play on the court. Reginald Buckner 8 for 10 from the floor, 19 points, 15 rebounds. Game of his career against a tough inside MSU duo of Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie.

It was about 7 points and 7 rebounds from Demarco Cox in the most important 19 minutes he's played as a Rebel.

It was about Jarvis Summers' 12 points and Nick Williams' 17 points as the Rebel backcourt was solid all night, the Rebels only turning the ball over as a team five times.

It was about senior Terrance Henry joining Williams as the two who actually did have success at the free throw line.

It was about Ole Miss never really allowing MSU to make a run. As Stansbury said, his team just never could quite get over the hump at any point.

"Anywhere you go on the road it's difficult," Stansbury said. "There are no easy games on the road in the SEC, particularly coming here."

That obviously hadn't been the case for Mississippi State recently, at least as far as getting a win in Tad Smith.

A writer who covers MSU pointed out postgame that no current Bulldog player had ever lost to Ole Miss in Oxford.

"They're a very good team, and it's a very difficult atmosphere," Stansbury said. "Tonight they had them both going."

And because they did, the relief at the final horn from those who support the Rebels might have been more significant than the euphoria of a long-awaited win against the arch-rival.

As for the players and coaches, they now see if they can do this weekend what they couldn't do last weekend. Build on an SEC victory at home as they head back on the road.

A few more eyes may now even be on Thursday night's women's basketball matchup between the two schools in Oxford.

Just like Wednesday night, for the coaches and players, it is just one game. One conference game.

For the fans of both schools, it will mean more. The Rebels' win Wednesday night once again proved that.

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