Cold Blooded

STARKVILLE - When all seemed lost and their backs against the wall (again), the Rebels who never quit continued their quest for something greater this season, defeating Mississippi State 67-63 Saturday. Read about it inside.

It would've been hard to predict an Ole Miss victory in Starkville for the first time in 11 years.

Sure they outplayed Kentucky, but the Bullies are a tough bunch with a four-guard lineup that poses multiple matchup problems for the Rebels.

They started slow, with their opponents jumping ahead quickly. Before having a chance to catch their breath, the Rebels were already behind 12-2. The run didn't stop there, as MSU held a 25-12 advantage early.

But these young guns fooled us again. They refuse to give in.

"I'm not worried about losing this team. We have great kids," head coach Andy Kennedy said. "We're just trying to get some experience. The guys are becoming more and more comfortable with each dribble of the ball. I wasn't concerned. We've been in big holes before. Fortunately, we're pretty experienced at falling behind early. I'm glad to see we're learning some lessons from that."

After that early deficit, Ole Miss settled in. They used a six-point run to pull within striking distance and never let up.

Those open shots the Rebels were giving up in transition began to disappear. MSU was on its heels, and the Rebels knew it.

"We quit making shots, and they started making shots," MSU head coach Rick Stansbury said. "That's the way it goes in the game. I thought we got tired in a couple of positions too. I thought Jarvis (Varnado) really got worn out. We had some turnovers in that little stretch. Jarvis had a couple of walks calls against him."

You could see the confidence building in this group. Following two Phil Turner free throws, the Rebels reeled off 10 more points to take their first lead of the game at 28-27.

From there, the game became a battle of possessions, with each team swapping baskets until the half came to a close.

Ole Miss trailed 37-33 at halftime, but its momentum was mounting.

"I thought our zone was very good to us," Kennedy said. "After we handled the initial barrage, we settled in. Our defense helped us stay in the game throughout the first half."

Initially, the second was par for the course. The Rebels outscored State 15-7 to start, and wouldn't allow Varnado any levity. Malcolm White did an admirable job defending the junior, with DeAundre Cranston and Murphy Holloway chipping in.

There would be no block party today.

"They were letting me catch it, but were bottling me up," said Varnado. "They weren't letting me shoot my right-hand jump hook. I didn't know that until the second half and by then it was too late."

After a three-pointer by Terrico White made the score 61-55, the Rebels started pouring it on for a nine-point lead at 64-55 with 3:35 to go. Fans began to exit and the gym was silenced.

With 1:44 to go, things got interesting again.

"I think they (his players) didn't handle the end of the game as well as we would like," said Kennedy. "I think we're up nine or 10 with two or three (minutes) left to play and we threw it away in pressure a couple of times. We made some poor decisions, but we had enough to finish the game."

But it wasn't easy.

Never in a million years would any coach want a 40 percent free throw shooter at the charity stripe with the game on the line. However, this was no ordinary game.

Cranston hit one-of-two to give Ole Miss a 65-62 lead with only 15 seconds left, until Bost hit a free throw of his own to cut the lead to two.

After David Huertas grabbed one of his seven rebounds on the day, Barry Stewart committed a foul. Huertas was on the line with a chance to end the game.

Ice water.

"I felt I had to hit those shots to seal the deal," Huertas said. "I'm glad I did. I just tried to breath and make the shot."

This week couldn't have gone much better for the Red and Blue. A victory over their instate rivals the icing on the proverbial cake.

Terrico followed his impressive showing against Kentucky with 18 points and five rebounds in the effort. Better yet, the freshman picked his team up when they needed him the most, hitting critical shot after critical shot.

It's safe to say, we're seeing a star in the making.

"He's a big-time player," said Kennedy. "He's becoming much more comfortable with the role we've had to put him in. He steps up and makes hard shots. He has the ability. It's my job to put him in position to do that. He's growing each and every day."

Today was only the third time since 1984 that Ole Miss won in Humphrey Coliseum, with the Rebels doing so against a team that had won five-straight coming in.

Maybe this team's immune to pressure.

"Our players have no idea," Kennedy said of the players' mindset on Ole Miss' recent history in Starkville. "Ten years, nine years, they're only worried about what we're eating on the bus."

He's right. It's as if the Rebels didn't realize most had predicted them to lose this game.

"I was seven years old the last time we've won here," said sophomore Zach Graham, who had 13 points and three rebounds for the game. "I guess I've never really thought of it that way."

Add to the fact the Rebels did it in front of the fourth-largest crowd in MSU history, only makes this win much more impressive.

"Today was a huge step forward as it relates to the psyche of our group," Kennedy said. "Tuesday's game was about us being efficient and having a great approach for the game. I thought our approach was good again today, but we weren't nearly as efficient. But we still found a way to win.

"That tells me this team's starting to get it."

No doubt about it.


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