SEC-Opening Setback

Fourteenth-ranked Ole Miss held the favorites to win the SEC Western Division off for a while, but in the end Mississippi State proved too much. The Bulldogs took an 80-75 victory back home to Starkville in the SEC opener for both teams.

"We defended, we rebounded, and we made some shots," said Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury. "You do those things on the road, you've got a chance. We hung in there and played hard, and it paid off."

Ole Miss, which trailed 20-8 early, came back to lead 42-37 at halftime. The Rebels built on that lead early in the second half, expanding it to nine points, the last time at 55-46 on a steal at halfcourt and drive to the basket by Terrance Henry.

But Ole Miss (12-3, 0-1) never could build the lead into double digits, and the Bulldogs hung around until the foul discrepancy paid dividends.

State (13-3, 1-0) was in the bonus (seven fouls) with 12:47 to go in the second half and in the double bonus (10 fouls) a short time later with 10:51 left in the game. MSU fouled only six times in the final 20 minutes as the Rebels never got into the bonus situation.

"We were up nine and (MSU sophomore guard) Dee Bost could tell his team, for whatever reason, wasn't in a great offensive sync. So he just drove the ball to the basket," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. "By doing so it allowed them to stay in the game from the free throw line until they figured some things out. It gave them their second life, and they made plays down the stretch."

It was Bost that made a 3-pointer to give MSU the lead for good at 66-65 with 6:38 to go.

Ole Miss got 38 points from its non-starters, while MSU got only seven points. However Stansbury said State's bench was maybe the most important aspect of the game.

"A huge key to this game was the amount of minutes our bench was able to give," Stansbury said. Not points. Minutes.

Jarvis Varnado, considered by most experts as good a shot-blocker as there's ever been in collegiate basketball history, had six blocks in the game. And he may have affected "six or seven" other Rebel shots, according to Kennedy.

Stansbury was pleased with his senior all-star big man, who also had 12 rebounds.

"They didn't get much done down low," Stansbury said.

Kennedy said a couple of points jump out.

"The biggest differences are Jarvis has more blocks (6) than our whole team (5), and we foul. Our opponents have made 120 more free throws than their opponents. That speaks to fouling. Today we continue that trend. They shoot 33 free throws (and made 22) in our building by being more aggressive. And we foul. That's something we've got to continue to work on."

The Rebels, who shot only 13 free throws, making eight, had a tough time of it down low as the game progressed.

Murphy Holloway was held scoreless and had one rebound. DeAundre Cranston had six points early in the first half, no points in the second half, and fouled out. Reginald Buckner had eight points and five rebounds.

Henry was the most effective, scoring 12 points and pulling down six rebounds, with two of his baskets of the 3-point variety.

Stansbury said this was an important win for his ballclub.

"Anytime you go on the road and win in this league, it's special. Anytime you can do it against your rival in the season opener, it's very obvious you can take some confidence from it."

Kennedy said the Rebels can't look back, and here is what they do.

"We bounce back," he said.

"We did some good things today," Kennedy continued. "Just not enough to win against a quality opponent. Our next two are on the road, and four of our next five are on the road. We've got to regroup, we've got to learn, and we've got to continue to improve."

The Rebels are at Georgia Wednesday night.

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