Road woes - Rebs fall at MSU

STARKVILLE – With as many young players as Ole Miss has on its roster, there were bound to be growing pains. Eniel Polynice said after Mississippi State beat Ole Miss 88-68 he's just about heard enough of that.

"Guys acted like they didn't care about being here," a disappointed Polynice, with 14 points, said after the Rebels fell to 15-3 on the season and 2-3 in Southeastern Conference play. "I don't think we gave it our all."

Ole Miss second-year head coach Andy Kennedy, in a separate postgame interview, appeared to feel just about the same way.

"I thought for the first time since I've been the head coach at Ole Miss, we didn't compete to the level we need to to have a chance to win in an atmosphere such as this against a very good basketball team," Kennedy said. "That's where I'm disappointed."

Kennedy didn't get too wound up in the technical aspect of this one. He felt it went deeper than that.

"Shots are going to go. Shots are going to fall. Sometimes they will, sometimes they won't. There are nights when other teams step up and make big plays," he said.

"But I thought when they hit us and knocked us to the deck, we stayed on the deck. We didn't get up," he continued. "To me, that's disappointing and that's something that will be corrected."

The Rebels have two home games upcoming to see if those corrections are indeed made. Vanderbilt invades Tad Smith Coliseum Wednesday night, and South Carolina comes to town on Saturday.

As for this one, especially defensively, Kennedy said the Rebels did little to slow down the Bulldogs, who aren't accustomed to scoring 88 points. State averaged just under 73 points through its first 18 games.

Never one to mince words, Kennedy said, when asked what went wrong defensively, responded "Everything."

"We were trying to extend the game once we got behind," he said. "We were trying to press some and get some turnovers which may lead to some opportunities in the open floor. When we would get a trap, which was very seldom, and my math is not that great. But when you put two on the ball, I realize you're going to be outnumbered off the ball. We were letting them split the trap and find open shooters, and to their credit they knocked in shots.

"And we had no answer obviously for Jamont Gordon. He went where he wanted and did what when he wanted all night."

Gordon, with 13 points, six assists, two steals and only one turnover, was also key defensively against Chris Warren, a Rebel freshman who went through another learning experience in this one. Warren was 5-for-20, only 2-for-10 from 3-point land, and 3-for-4 at the line for 15 points, which is ironically still his season's points per game average.

"His size and his strength bothered Chris," Kennedy said of Gordon. "I thought Chris went a little faster than he normally does. It's our fault for being so dependent on a true freshman. He's played 17 games coming into tonight. When he doesn't play the way we've come to expect, it's hard for us to have an answer. Tonight Chris was a little bit out of his element, and I believe Jamont had a lot to do with that."

"There is no question Chris Warren is a terrific player," said Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury. "But Jamont Gordon is a terrific player, too. They are two completely different type of players. Warren is small and quick, and Jamont is powerful and strong. Jamont kept Warren from ever really getting into a flow, which was a key to the game."

Dwayne Curtis said things were rough all over for the Rebels in this one.

"They played tough and with a lot of energy since they were at home," said Curtis, who finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds to pace the Rebels. "When you go on the road, you'd better bring that energy as well. I can't really say why we didn't."

In the first half, the Rebels remained within striking distance. Ole Miss trailed 38-31 at halftime, but MSU expanded its lead to as many as 22 points late in the contest, while moving to 14-5 on the season and a still perfect 5-0 in Southeastern Conference play.

In the second half, MSU blistered the nets, shooting 69 percent from the floor while limiting Ole Miss to 38 percent – 37 percent for the entire game.

One of the keys for MSU on this night was the play of Charles Rhodes, who was 12-for-14 from the field, 2-for-3 from the line, for 26 points.

"Charles Rhodes told us what he was going to do, and he went about doing it," Kennedy said. "Give him credit. He made a lot of tough shots. He's a good player. That's what you want. In games like this, obviously a huge game, you want your guys to step up and make plays. They certainly got that out of their two marquee guys."

With regular two guard Ben Hansbrough out due to illness, State also got a 4-for-5 effort from 3-point range for 12 points out of freshman Riley Benock, who had averaged two points a game coming in.

Kennedy admitted getting more out of his two-guard spot is becoming critical.

"We're really not getting any production there," he said. "That's a glaring weakness. David Huertas (2 points) continues to struggle. Trevor Gaskins (3 points) is not shooting it well, but he's a freshman and that can be feast or famine."

Maybe mincing words a bit with some subtleness to them, Kennedy said 38 percent free throw shooter Jarvis Varnado's four free throws were important.

"He stepped up there and looked like Kyle Macy," said Kennedy, recalling the former Kentucky Wildcat guard who was a 90-plus percent free throw shooter in college.

"How about that reference?" Kennedy said, smiling, as were the reporters in the room.

"But you know why he did?" he said of Varnado's perfection at the line on this night. "Because he wanted to win the game. That's why. It was important to him. He was really concentrating, because he wants to win the game. That's something our guys need to learn."

On that point, Polynice clearly agrees with his coach.

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