Ole Miss went on an 11-2 run early but Mississippi State came right back to outscore the Rebels 32-13 - all before halftime - and cruise to an 87-76 victory in the Rebels' Southeastern Conference home opener of the 2004-05 season.
Rebel senior center Tommie Eddie, who didn't see any action in Ole Miss' SEC opening 69-46 loss at Arkansas Wednesday night, was back for this one, having been cleared of an academic situation.
Although having the team's second-leading scorer and rebounder back in the lineup helped, it wasn't enough to offset the powerful Bulldogs, who came in ranked 18th in the country and are now 14-2 overall and 2-0 in SEC play.
"Give Mississippi State credit," Ole Miss Coach Rod Barnes said after his team fell to 0-2 in league play and 9-6 overall. "They played well. That maybe is as well as they've played all year. We allowed them too many easy baskets, however. We'd been shooting the 3 well, but we didn't today, and that hurt us."
The Rebels used the emotion of having Eddie back and a near capacity crowd to race out to a 24-12 advantage at the 11:35 mark of the first half on a jump shot in the lane by Todd Abernethy. But the Bulldogs then made their lengthy run to go up 44-37 at halftime.
In the second half, the Bulldogs maintained a fairly comfortable lead most of the way. The Rebels cut it to four points at 48-44 on an Abernethy jumper in the lane with 17:42 remaining. But after a Gary Ervin layup made it 50-44 State only 21 seconds later, the Rebels would not be as close again.
Mississippi State had gone from a man-to-man to a zone defense after the Rebels built the 12-point lead in the first half. All parties concerned said it was key to the Bulldogs getting back in the game. Barnes said, however, it could have been offset at least some if the Rebels had been more effective offensively during that stretch - basically hitting some outside shots.
"I really don't think it was so much what they did but what we didn't do," he said. "If we had made a couple of shots early, then they would have had to make a decision to stay in the zone or not. We got some great looks and we played a lot of people. A lot of guys had good looks at threes and didn't knock them down. That's something that we didn't do."
"The zone hurt us because we didn't hit some shots," said the sophomore guard who had 11 points, six assists, and four rebounds in the contest. "That slowed things down for us. We were running and playing at our tempo, but that changed things. We wanted to get up and down and after that it was hard to do."
"I thought we should have played zone from the beginning," MSU Coach Rick Stansbury said. "When we did, it took them out of their game. It took their crowd out of the game. It gave our guys a chance to catch their breath."
Eddie's return spurred the Rebels early and gave them an inside game they really did not have at Arkansas. He ended the game with 17 points and three rebounds.
"It was great to have Tommie back," Abernethy said. "It gave us more of an inside presence. He can just finish plays and showed that today."
Eddie said it had been a tough week of waiting, and that he was glad to be back on the court with his team.
"It was good to be back out there and having fun," he said. "It was good to see the guys pumped up that I was back. It was a real tough situation this week. I found out (Friday) afternoon that I would be playing. Now it's behind me and I'm ready to go practice for the next game."
The Rebels' next game is against Georgia Wednesday night at 7 in Oxford. The Bulldogs are 6-5 on the season heading into a Saturday night game at South Carolina. In their SEC opener, Georgia lost at home to Tennessee 72-65.
MSU's Lawrence Roberts, the senior forward who was the SEC Player of the Year last season, led State with 23 points and seven rebounds. Ole Miss junior forward Londrick Nolen got the responsibility of guarding Roberts much of the contest.
"It was tough in there, but I tried to do my best," he said. "I tried to front him up, and I got some backside help. It was good having Tommie back for the inside game as well."
The Bulldogs had three others in double figures - Ervin with 15, Ontario Harper with 12, and Marcus Campbell with 11.
In addition to Eddie's 17 and Abernethy's 11, Nolen had 12 and Kendrick Fox 11.
MSU shot 57 percent (30-53) for the game to the Rebels' 46 percent (28-61). From 3-point range Ole Miss was only 8-30 while State was 8-17.
From the line MSU was 19-24 while UM was 12-17. State won the battle of the boards 35-24.
In the final analysis of the UM-MSU game, Barnes said State simply did more things better than the Rebels.
"I'm not so disappointed in our overall game. I'm just disappointed that they got too many easy baskets," he said. "I wish we had made more shots. But I can't get down on our guys for missing shots. We had the lead and the game was going our way. Then they made some buckets and chopped the lead up. We became hesitant and didn't shoot with the aggression that we usually do on offense. Our effort was there. We just didn't do enough things to win the game."
Bulldogs outlast Rebels 87-76
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