The streak is dead; long live the new streak

Ole Miss ended an eight-game men's basketball losing streak to Mississippi State Saturday with a 75-65 win in Oxford before 8,581 fans.

Rod Barnes and Rick Stansbury said they try not to get caught up in things like streaks. But they're only human, right?

So when Ole Miss ended an eight-game men's basketball losing streak to Mississippi State Saturday afternoon with a 75-65 win, both were asked about it.

State's win streak in the series matched an Ole Miss eight-game win streak from 1980-83, the first six under UM head coach Bob Weltlich and the last two under Lee Hunt.

In the current streak, the Rebels had lost four times in Starkville by scores of 71-68 (2005), 80-56 (2004), 68-64 in overtime (2003), and 61-59 (2002).

They'd lost three times in Oxford – 87-76 (2005), 61-54 (2004), and 58-57 (2003).

There was one Rebel loss on a neutral court – the Louisiana Superdome in round two of the SEC Tournament on March 14, 2003, a 73-64 setback.

The last Ole Miss win in the series had come on Jan. 12, 2002, a 66-59 victory in Oxford. That was the last Ole Miss team to make it to postseason play – losing to UCLA 80-58 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Pittsburgh.

For Barnes, it has been a long and frustrating eight games in this long and storied rivalry.

"Now I won't have to read about it (Sunday)," Barnes said, smiling. "Now I don't have to hear or read about it being nine in a row. I'm happy for our fans. I'm happy for our players. Our goal is to win titles. Mississippi State happens to be a part of that because we play them at least twice each season.

"But really, had we beaten any team in our league today, I'd be happy," Barnes continued. "It gives us another conference win. It puts us closer to our goals that we want to accomplish. It gives our kids confidence. We're still a young basketball team. I just can't get caught up in those things. I'm from the state of Mississippi. I want Ole Miss to win, and I want our fans to be excited about our program. I always want to beat the best teams in our league. Rick (Stansbury) has done a great job, and I want to beat them because over the last five years they have been one of the best teams in the SEC West. I'll rest a little bit better tonight."

The MSU head coach gave applause to Rod and the Rebs.

"Give Ole Miss a lot of credit," Stansbury said. "They played well. Give Rod Barnes a lot of credit. His team has its confidence back. Coaches don't get caught up in streaks. Rod has always done a good job here. He's coaching the same way as always. Now they are winning. I'm proud for him from that standpoint."

The Rebels have "streaked" out to a perfect 3-0 SEC mark so far and an impressive overall record of 13-3. This one wasn't as easy as it might have looked by the score. It was a 10-point victory but it felt closer.

Still the Rebels had the game in hand most of the day. It was all about not giving it away and continuing to play their own game.

The flow of the game had some similarities to the second half of the Rebels' 71-61 win at Alabama a week ago. While Ole Miss trailed by seven in that one at halftime, the Rebs took command in the first half of this one, leading by as many as 15 points at 28-13 midway through the first period.

But State closed the gap. A layup by Walter Sharpe cut the UM lead to 34-28 with just under five minutes left in the half. Ole Miss answered to push the advantage back out. A Londrick Nolen layup with 2:53 to go in the half made it 40-29 UM. After MSU cut it back down to nine points, a layup by Dwayne Curtis with 12 seconds to go before the break gave Ole Miss an 11-point lead at 44-33, which it maintained at the halftime buzzer.

After State got a quick bucket to open the second half, Todd Abernethy nailed a 3 for a 47-35 UM advantage. After another MSU basket, it was Abernethy again for a trey and a 50-37 lead.

But the visitors then went on a run. A Dietric Slater jumper cut Ole Miss' lead to 52-46 with 13:38 left. But a rebound and putback by Jermey Parnell off a Nolen miss, along with a State foul of Parnell and made free throw, stretched the Rebel lead back out to 55-46 and the ship had been righted. When Abernethy nailed a 10-footer in the lane, the Ole Miss lead was 14 points at 60-46 with half a half left.

MSU closed the gap to six points a couple of times, the last on a layup by Charles Rhodes with 4:30 to go to make it 66-60. Neither team scored for the next minute and a half, and at the 3:00 mark, an Abernethy drive and layup gave Ole Miss a 68-60 lead.

The teams then swapped turnovers, and State missed a 3-pointer. When Abernethy fed it inside to Curtis for a layup with 1:26 left and a 70-60 lead, this one was wrapped in red and blue.

As in several games so far this season, there appears to have been more coaching moves and defensive changes and offensive action than has been the case with Rebel teams of the recent past. Barnes admitted after this one that he is more willing to make those changes now than in the past.

"Everybody knows I've always been a man to man coach," he said. "But we've been box and one, triangle and two, diamond and one, we've done everything. So I'm changing. I'm more willing to change. And we ask our guys to buy into whatever it is we need to do to win."

His point guard likes the approach.

"It's all about the mindset of being willing to give ourselves up for whatever this team needs," Abernethy said. "Today the team needed me to step up and score points."

Abernethy led UM with 22 points, a career-high, followed by Curtis with 17.

State was paced by Rhodes with 24 points.

The teams were close in some categories – MSU shot 49 percent to 48 for the Rebs. Ole Miss made 10-17 free throws and State 11-18. The Rebs were 7-19 from 3-point range while the Bulldogs were 4-12. Ole Miss protected the basketball well and had but nine turnovers, while the visitors had 17.

State (11-5, 1-2) hosts LSU Wednesday night. Ole Miss, leading the SEC West alone at 13-3 and 3-0, doesn't play again until next Saturday at Georgia.

The Rebels get a chance to continue their "new" win streak against MSU on Sat., Feb. 18 in Starkville.

"We have a week before we play another game," Abernethy said. "That's a long break. We knew we had to give it our all today and not lose, or it would have been a long week of practice. It's good to be 3-0, but we still have so many areas that we can improve and work on. We're going back to work and we're going to get better."

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