But they aren't going to put any undue pressure on themselves that it's any bigger than any other game. Not because they lost their last game at Auburn. Not because it's Mississippi State. Not for any reason. They want to play well and get a win, and that's it.
"We treat every game as a big game," said sophomore guard Eniel Polynice. "We'll just go out there and play hard and try to win, just like we do every game."
Senior center Dwayne Curtis agrees but also says it would be beneficial to the Rebels' chances at SEC West and overall titles if they could somehow slow down the Bulldog express and win this one. MSU is 13-5 overall but 4-0 in Southeastern Conference play.
"They've got all the momentum right now, and they're playing at home," Curtis said. "We're 2-2 (SEC West) and they have a head start on us. We need this one."
DC knows what it means when Ole Miss, 15-2 overall, and State get together. And the visiting team at either venue finds the going tough.
"All their fans are on the edge of their seats and trying to win the game, yelling at us," he said. "It's two Mississippi teams playing, and it's a hostile environment."
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Andy Kennedy said his Rebels aren't exactly 100 percent for this one and haven't been the past few games.
"We've got some issues," he said, specifically mentioning big men Jermey Parnell and Curtis. "I'm expecting JP to play. He certainly won't be 100 percent. But he's trying. He's getting better. He wants to play. This is the last time he will have an opportunity to go into Starkville. I don't have any doubts he will be able to give us something. And Dwayne will as well."
Curtis, the senior center, has had nagging feet problems for years.
"He strained his arch," Kennedy said. "We don't want to do anything that will cause him to have to deal with it for the remainder of the season. Hopefully it isn't something that will keep him from being effective."
Kennedy said the week between games came at a good time.
"We've used it to work on some things we needed to work on and to also get the guys some rest," he said. "It is what it is, but the timing wasn't bad."
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Polynice said the Rebels have worked hard this week to shore up their defense on the perimeter.
"Basically we haven't been running back," he said of why some teams have gotten so many open 3-pointers against the Rebs. "We've been doing transition stuff in practice (this week) to get back. We haven't been speaking (on the court in games). We're young and we've got to start communicating with one another. We haven't been doing that enough. Getting back and talking. That will help us keep them from getting as many open looks."
Polynice will likely guard State's all-everything player, Jamont Gordon. He's getting used to seeing the opponent's best player game in and game out.
"He plays extremely hard and comes at the basket hard," Polynice said of MSU's leading scorer. "He tries to get everybody involved. He's real aggressive off the bounce. He's one of the top guys in our league. I've got to play him honest, straight up, and not give him any angles, put pressure on him and hope he doesn't get to the basket."
So is it tough guarding the best player on the other team most nights?
"Maybe a little bit. My legs might be dead sometimes," Polynice said. "But I can't let that affect me. I've got to play hard and hopefully make him play me, too. If he goes at me, I'm going to go at him, too. Both of us will have tough assignments against each other the whole night."
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Kennedy said he loves the competitive nature of his ballclub this season.
"One thing I really like about this team is that you can tell a big difference in them after we lose," he said. "They don't like to lose. That's a good thing. They look at it like us as coaches look at it. Sometimes we coaches look at the past and say I wish we had done this or that better. I think our players have some regrets about some of the things we've done in the past, both in wins and losses, which is good. Hopefully that will allow them to focus when the opportunity arises again."
Kennedy said State's Jarvis Varnado, the nation's best shot-blocker at more than five a game, is a handful to play against. Varnado has blocked 10-plus shots in games twice this SEC season.
"He's a tremendous shot-blocker. Hopefully we have a plan that will limit some of the things at which he is effective doing. I'm not sure that's in the best interest of our team. Our team is a team that attacks off the bounce. Our team is very dependent on getting the ball to DC in an area that he can score, and we all know that's close to the basket. So we have to be aware of Varnado and we have to be sure our kids are aware of him. But we still have to play the way we feel we can be successful."
Kennedy said Curtis has the ability and experience to do the best job that anyone could expect given the circumstances.
"He plays angles well and his timing's pretty good. He's got a pretty good feel. I'm sure Varnado's going to block some shots. What we can't allow them to do is what they did to us last year. If you'll remember early in the game last year (at MSU) not only he but Charles Rhodes were very effective at blocking shots at the rim, and we ended up settling for shots at the perimeter. We can't do that. To have a chance on the road in the SEC, we have to continue to do what's allowed us to be successful, and that's putting pressure on the rim."
DC says he knows Varnado is one tough player, and he hopes he's ready for the challenge.
"I'll have to use my big size, my big body," Curtis said. "Use my bulkiness, put a little weight on him. Just try to get him off balance. Try to adjust to him a little bit so I can get some open looks."
And maybe get him in foul trouble if possible?
"Definitely," Curtis said.
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Kennedy says MSU has been most impressive lately and continues to get better.
"Jamont Gordon has raised his level of play. A lot of their guys have found their roles. Their younger guys are getting more comfortable. They're developing their bench. And they're finding their identity as a team."
Saturday's game is the 236th between the two programs. MSU leads the all-time series 132-103. It's the most played men's basketball series in SEC history.
Rebels on the road again
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