Ole Miss needed Tuesday night.
Forget the frustrations of the season for a moment. Forget the Rebels let back-to-back resume-building opportunities slip through their fingers last week, including what would have been a season-defining win over No. 2 Baylor three days ago. Forget the uncertainty of National Signing Day in football. Actually, forget about the overall frustrations of Ole Miss athletics, in general, for the last year-plus.
Ole Miss, for a night, can celebrate. Not necessarily because the Rebels beat in-state rival Mississippi State for the sixth time in the last seven meetings between the schools in the most-played rivalry in the SEC. But because, for a night, Ole Miss and its fans can breath. Sure, Mississippi State turned a comfortable, 16-point lead into just a 10-point deficit early in the second half, but the Rebels hit another spurt (to follow their game-changing 22-5 run in the first half) to push their advantage back out to 20. Rasheed Brooks, in his second game back from a seizure suffered two weeks ago, played inspired basketball. He scored 15 points, with almost all of his damage coming in the first half when he tallied 13 points on 4 of 5 from the field and 3 of 4 from 3. Terence Davis returned to his athletic freak form, his aerial displays of dunks and reverse layups a sight to see in leading Ole Miss in scoring with 18 points. Sebastian Saiz, as he does seemingly every night, notched a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Saiz entered the game leading the SEC, and ranking sixth nationally, in rebounding. He’s the only player in the conference averaging a double-double, and he ranks fifth now with 15 double-doubles on the year.
A win over Mississippi State at home doesn’t do much, if anything, one way or the other for Ole Miss’ postseason hopes. By the numbers, the Bulldogs entered play with an RPI rank outside of the Top 100. Ole Miss, by comparison, is No. 73. Postseason teams are supposed to win such games. Ole Miss, though, has ugly home losses to Middle Tennessee and Georgia on its ledger, and those losses, compounded by a blowout loss to Kentucky, loom large. But, right now, the postseason is in the far away distance.
However, and stay with me here, sometimes it’s OK to forget the big picture, the math and existential questions about a program. Every so often, a win is just a win and nothing more. Enjoy it. Pocket it. And move on to the next. The 2016-17 basketball season has been an extension of the frustrations felt by all associated with Ole Miss since the Sugar Bowl ended. So when a moment — or in this case, a night — comes and everything goes right — when fans are have nothing to complain about or take issue with — why not take a few extra minutes or hours or days to relish in it? For the win to come against Mississippi State only it makes it that much sweeter for Ole Miss fans, I assume.
Put your phone away. Get off your message board of choice. Log out of Twitter. Forget about the year that time is free to forget. Ole Miss won Tuesday night. That’s enough.
(Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy)
On the win: “We were obviously disappointed, even though we led more minutes than we trailed our last two outings, we couldn’t close the game. If you can’t close out at home, it’s disappointing. Our guys were feeling that. They knew, especially Saturday, a lost opportunity. I think it was helpful that this game was on Tuesday. I think it was helpful that it was against our in-state rival. I thought our guys were locked in. Breein (Tyree) continues to emerge as our point guard, which allows me to put guys back in their natural positions. I thought, from the start, we were much more efficient offensively. We’ve been dominated on the glass the last two outings. Texas A&M has a couple of pros on their front line. They just manhandled us. They lead the SEC in rebounding margin, and Baylor leads the Big 12 in rebounding margin. We’re minus-10 in a one-possession game there. Very, very costly. We knew tonight we had an opportunity where we needed to win the battle of the glass. We finished plus-13 with 15 big offensive rebounds. Turned them over 19 times. That allows you to win comfortably despite shooting 6 for 23 from 3. We didn’t play a perfect game by any means. Didn’t turn it over, rebounded the ball, defended, held them under 40 percent in the second half, turned them over. Typically if you can win those categories you’ve got a chance.” On Tyree at the point and Deandre Burnett at the two: “We brought Breein here to be a point guard. It’s well-documented his issues with his knee. As he’s gotten more comfortable I think you’ve seen our turnovers go down tremendously. We only had seven against Baylor. Unfortunately four were in the last four minutes of a one-possession game, which ended up really being costly. Tonight we only had eight. A lot of that is because we’re not having to have guys out of their lane. We’re not trying to get guys to do things they can’t do. Breein and Dre’s a good combination. That’s what they were brought here for, and we’re finally able to see that come into play.”
On Brooks stepping up: “It means the world to us. This kid had a life-altering experience, and he’s a senior. As he’s sitting out those games and he’s reflecting upon what transpired, he’s also thinking my career’s about to be over. I think he was really pressing. In the last outing I threw him out there. It probably wasn’t fair to anyone, but he wanted to play and I wanted to give him an opportunity. He wasn’t very good against Baylor. Now we’ve had a couple of days of practice. I thought he really settled into a rhythm and made big shots for us. He was the difference. I think the score was 29-28, he knocked down a couple of 3s and we got some stops. Next thing you know we got it in double figures. I don’t think they ever got it before that.” On beating Mississippi State: “Different set of players, everything is a different set of circumstances. I’ve got nothing but respect for (Mississippi State head) coach (Ben) Howland and his program. I think he’s done a really great job in recruiting. They’ve got good players. They’re young. They’re growing. I’ve got nothing but respect for this series. I don’t know how many I’ve coached. I’ve played them a lot. Every game is going to be a battle. This is very atypical. Typically they’re very tight games. I’m just glad we were able to play better because our team needs it as we head down the stretch.”
OXFORD, Miss. -- (AP) Terence Davis scored 18 points, Sebastian Saiz added 17 and Mississippi pulled away to easily beat Mississippi State 88-61 on Tuesday night.
Ole Miss (13-9, 4-5 Southeastern Conference) won for just the fourth time in the past 10 games. The 6-foot-9 Saiz also had 11 rebounds to finish with his 15th double-double of the season.
Mississippi State (13-8, 4-5) cut the Ole Miss lead to 64-54 with 10:39 remaining, but the Rebels scored the next 12 points to put the game out of reach.
The Bulldogs were led by Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters, who both scored 16 points. Peters left the game midway through the second half with an undisclosed injury and the Bulldogs' offense never looked the same.
It was a close game for a big chunk of the first half. Ole Miss was up just 29-28 with 7:45 remaining, but used a 22-5 run to take a 51-33 lead by halftime. The Rebels were doing just about everything right, shooting 20 of 38 (52.6 percent) from the field and forcing 12 Mississippi State turnovers.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs looked like a team on the rise a few weeks ago after a good win against Texas A&M and a close loss to Kentucky. Now they've lost three of four, including a 27-point loss to their in-state rival.
Ole Miss: It's a nice win for the Rebels, who desperately needed some good news after losing six of nine games coming into Tuesday. Davis gave the Rebels some scoring punch.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs host Tennessee on Saturday.
Ole Miss: The Rebels go on the road to face Vanderbilt on Saturday.