STARKVILLE - Ole Miss was trying to stop the streak. In doing so it gave Mississippi State all it had.
The Rebels, now with eight straight losses against the Bulldogs, lost 71-68 in Humphrey Coliseum Saturday night. With the win, MSU's current series streak now matches Ole Miss' win streak of eight straight victories from 1980-83.
Ole Miss head coach Rod Barnes said this game was not about the streak but about getting the next win - any win against any foe.
"All losses hurt," said Barnes, whose Rebels fell to 13-14 overall and 4-10 in Southeastern Conference play. "This is our rival and we always want to win. Whether you are at Florida or at Alabama or at Fayetteville or at the Hump, losses hurt. Our guys played their hearts out. So yes, it hurts."
Barnes said his players gave him all they had.
"I was very pleased with our guys' effort," he said. "I thought they executed the gameplan. I was proud of them."
Bulldog head coach Rick Stansbury said he knew this one was especially big for Ole Miss, which hasn't won a game in the series since Jan. 12, 2002, that one in Oxford 66-59, the first meeting between the two in the 2001-02 season (then came a loss in the second meeting in 2001-02; three losses the next year, including one in the SEC tourney in New Orleans; two again last year; and now two this season).
"We knew this was going to be their Super Bowl," said Stansbury, appearing to more than usual play up the fact that the Bulldogs have the upper hand in the series now. "Give Ole Miss a lot of credit. They had a week to prepare for us. Coach Barnes had his team ready to play. I thought they played tremendous, shot the basketball well, and took care of the basketball. They put themselves into position to win. We knew we were going to get their best shot."
After the Bulldogs went up 11-5 early, the Rebels began to click on offense. Even when Mississippi State went to a zone defense halfway through the first half, the Rebels kept scoring. When Kendrick Fox nailed a 10-foot jumper in the lane, Ole Miss led 34-24 with 4:21 to go in the first half.
The Rebels led 36-26 with 3:38 left before halftime when Todd Abernethy got his own rebound and put it back in. But MSU would outscore the Rebels 12-5 the rest of the way before the break for a 41-38 UM advantage at intermission.
Ole Miss shot 59 percent in the first half including 50 percent from 3-point range. MSU was even hotter at 64 percent from the field and 75 percent from 3-point land.
The game remained close and Ole Miss led 58-53 with 8:17 left. Cavadas Nunnery stole the basketball on State's offensive end of the floor, drove the length of the court and laid it up. The shot was blocked by Winsome Frazier; otherwise the Rebs would have led by seven points. Stansbury called it the "one biggest play in the game."
Frazier then came down and nailed a 3-pointer to cut the UM lead to 58-56, and the race to the finish was on - especially in the eventful final two minutes.
Lawrence Roberts made two free throws to give State a 67-64 lead with 1:49 left. Kendrick Fox came down for the Rebels and pulled the trigger on a trey that would have tied it with 1:26 to go but it missed its mark.
UM center Tommie Eddie fouled Roberts on State's subsequent offensive possession, his fifth personal which came at the 1:19 mark. Roberts' two free throws gave MSU a 69-64 lead.
It still wasn't completely over when Brandon Patterson made two free throws with 1:00 left. Then when Roberts threw the ball away on MSU's offensive end with 50 seconds to go and the Rebs down only 69-66, the outcome was still in doubt.
But after Cavadas Nunnery missed a 3-pointer with 20 seconds to go, MSU's Roberts got the rebound. The SEC's Player of the Year in 2003-04 got the ball out to Jamall Edmondson who was fouled by Fox. Two free throws later and State led 71-66.
On the Rebels' last gasp, Marvin Moore laid the basketball in the hole with 1.6 seconds to go. He was fouled by Frazier, and appeared to intentionally miss the free throw to give his team a chance to get the rebound and make a 3-pointer to tie it. But the ball bounced around and onto the floor after the miss and the horn sounded.
Ole Miss ended up shooting 49 percent for the game, including 46 percent from 3-point range. State was 49 percent from the floor and 46 percent from 3-point land.
Abernethy led Ole Miss with 14 points, while Fox had 13 and Eddie 10.
Roberts had 20 for MSU as well as 15 rebounds. Shane Power scored 18.
Stansbury said he did not think his team, now 20-8 on the season and 8-6 in SEC play, was all that good in the contest.
"We didn't play our best, but there will be games like that," he said. "Games that you have to survive. The difference in the game was the free throw line. We were 23 of 25 and they were 4 of 10. That's a huge stat when it's a close game. We had great focus at the free throw line. Lawrence Roberts sometimes is 2 of 6 at the line. Tonight he was 10 of 11. Rebounding was also big for us. We doubled them up 38-19. The negative for us was turnovers with 19."
Barnes, whose team had only eight turnovers, agreed for the most part.
"Free throws were a big issue in the game, and I thought offensive rebounding by them was big."
Barnes then used the opportunity to commend his players on being quality student-athletes who exemplify the type of character a University student should have.
"I'm thankful to coach the young men I have," he said. "It's a privilege to work with these guys, how they come out every night regardless of what happened the last night, and they lay it on the line. As a coach, these are the type guys you want to be around. They are going to lay it on the line and do it right.
"I expect on Wednesday night against LSU that those guys in red will do that again."
Tipoff between the Rebels and the Tigers on Senior Night in Oxford is 7 p.m.
Rebs fall at MSU in thriller
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