Means to an End

Following a thrilling 98-91 overtime victory over Arkansas, Ole Miss heads home for a 4 p.m. matchup with in-state rival Mississippi State Saturday. Read about it inside.

A regular season filled with incredible highs and some memorable lows comes to an end Saturday, as Ole Miss meets in-state rival Mississippi State at 4 p.m. inside Tad Smith Coliseum.

In the 239th meeting between the two schools, the Rebels are in search of the season series sweep – their first against State since 1998 – and a third place finish in the SEC Western Division.

The Rebels hold a 77-40 series advantage in games played in Oxford, having taken nine of the last 13.

However, according to Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy, getting to this point hasn't been easy.

"If we were sitting in October and November and you would have told me what would happen this season, I might have claimed a back injury," Kennedy joked. "I would have tried to avoid this. Honestly, I couldn't give into it. I'm with these guys.

"I've just been really proud of the way they've continued to battle and the way in which they've approached every game. Not once have they given in. Obviously there are some games we've played better than others, but overall, I've never been prouder of a group. I still think we have some more basketball in us and I hope I can help pull that out."

No matter what 2009 had to offer, Ole Miss continued to shine its incredible resolve in each game it came across.

Through an unprecedented amount of injuries, the Rebels have faced countless spells of adversity this season. Despite them all, however, they have remained in contention for a postseason berth, with Mississippi State the final test before next week's SEC Tournament in Tampa.

Considering the challenges faced, a chance is all Ole Miss has ever asked for. The team holds a 16-13 overall record, with a 7-8 mark in league action, and is making a serious claim for a spot in the NIT.

"Honestly, I think at 8-8 in the conference, you're in pretty good position to get to the postseason," said Kennedy. "Obviously it's the three-letter tournament and not the four-letter one, but for this team, that would be a tremendous accomplishment. So really, that's where our focus is.

"I don't really even think about Tampa. I could care less about that now. Saturday is an opportunity for us to get to even in the league and get 17 wins. That would be huge for us."

After snapping a three-game losing skid against Florida Wednesday, the Bulldogs roll into Oxford sporting an 18-12 record overall and 8-7 clip in the conference.

MSU is led by reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year Jarvis Varnado, who is the team's top scorer and rebounder at 13.1 ppg and 9.1 rpg respectively. He also tops the nation in blocks with 4.7 per game.

"Obviously with (Jarvis) Varnado in the game, you have to gameplan around him," Kennedy said. "He's such a force defensively. I'm sure he'll be the Defensive Player of the Year again this year. He's such a presence. We'll have to bring the proper energy and approach to give ourselves a chance."

With the status of junior David Huertas still in limbo and only seven players seeing action against the Razorbacks, Ole Miss will most likely take the floor severely undermanned.

That disadvantage didn't slow them in their comeback victory Wednesday, however, as SEC Freshman of the Year frontrunner Terrico White poured in 29 points for his seventh 20-point game this season.

Will Bogan also raised his game in Fayetteville, adding 16 points and seven assists in the effort.

"I think our confidence now is as high as it's ever been – especially considering the fact we were able to pull off that win on the road at Arkansas without the original three injuries and now David. I think that helped us as far as confidence goes," said Bogan.

In the teams' previous meeting, the Rebels were victorious, topping Mississippi State 67-63 in Starkville. White had 18 points for the game, which was Ole Miss' first win at State since 1998.

The Bulldogs hold the all-time series lead at 133-105 in the SEC's most-played rivalry. Rebel senior non-scholarship players Ryan Brown and Patrick Spach will be honored during the pre-game "Senior Day" ceremony.

While there will be no television broadcast for Saturday's contest, the game can be heard via the Ole Miss Radio Network.


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