State of Mind

Mississippi State is in Oxford for an 8 p.m. men’s basketball game today, and Ole Miss is trying to approach it like any other game. Of course, the Rebels know the intensity of the instate rivalry.

But every game, no matter who they are playing, is another opportunity to improve their record and their resume’ and move on through the battles of a difficult basketball season.

Ole Miss is 12-7 overall and coming off a dramatic 72-71 win at home against Florida on Saturday. The Rebels improved to 3-3 in Southeastern Conference play with what players had called a must win situation prior to the contest against the Gators.

On the same afternoon in Starkville, MSU lost to Georgia 72-66, which snapped a two-game win streak for State that had defeated Vanderbilt at home and Auburn on the road the previous week. MSU stands 9-10 on the season and 2-4 in league play.

Sure, tonight’s game is the latest edition of this rivalry, and that fact alone brings more attention to it than most other games, especially for fans.

The Ole Miss players, however, say they have to treat it as just another game. Because, in reality and as far as win-loss records go, that’s what it is.

“The only thing I can say about the rivalry is that we always have a better record than Mississippi State. But it’s something about Mississippi State that we always don’t play up to our potential,” said junior guard Martavius Newby from Memphis, Tenn.

Last season Ole Miss won two of three games the teams played against each other. In Starkville, MSU prevailed 76-72, while in Oxford it was Ole Miss on the long end of an 82-63 score. They met in the SEC Tournament in Atlanta and Ole Miss won 78-66.

The Rebels have actually won three in a row against State in Oxford. But it’s been since 2008-09 that Ole Miss has won in Starkville, a 67-63 victory that season. In the regular season finale that same year, Ole Miss lost 82-80 in Oxford.

Newby is hoping the Rebels play up to their potential this time, knowing Mississippi State will bring its “A” game to C.M. “Tad” Smith Coliseum for the last time ever. Next season’s Oxford matchup is scheduled for The Pavilion at Ole Miss.

“They feel like they are the underdogs of the state of Mississippi, because they feel they should be more recognized than Ole Miss,” said Newby, attempting to explain what he believes is the reason MSU players seem to take this game to another level of attention. “I think that causes State to play like that against us.”

Sophomore center Dwight Coleby, who played at Piney Woods School in central Mississippi, know MSU will be in it to win it again this time around.

“I think they’re playing their best basketball right now,” he said.

Coleby also feels the Rebels are playing their best.

“We’ve just got to be consistent. One game we look like the best team, and then the next game we look sluggish. If we stay constant and consistent, we should be good.”

Tonight is another indicator as to their consistency. The Florida game Saturday gave them a lift, but tonight things could obviously head the other direction.

“I think it’s a mind thing with the players,” Newby said. “When we step on the court, I feel like some of our guys are not as focused and locked in. Some of our guys see us losing (late), and that’s when they wait until the last minute and turn it up. But you can’t do that. You have to start from the beginning.”

Newby said he knows from experience MSU will be looking to celebrate after this one.

“State beating us is a big thing to them. Last year we lost to them and they started having a party in their locker room,” he said, recalling that he saw videos of it later. “It’s like the Super Bowl to them. So we’re just trying not to let that happen again.”

Coleby said he doesn’t predict any parties in the Ole Miss locker room if the Rebels get a win tonight.

“We watched the clip of them dancing,” he said. “I don’t think we would go to that extreme of dancing inside the locker room.”

Unless the Rebels won the national championship, he added.

More than anything, as the players have said, it’s about winning another game, especially at home where they’ve struggled to find wins this season. That’s why the victory against Florida was so important.

“Our guys were ready, and everybody was locked in. I was confident we were going to beat Florida that game,” Newby said. “Everybody on the team knows about Mississippi State, so we already know what type of game it’s going to be. We’re looking forward to playing them.”

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