Opening Thud

Earlier in the week, Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy attempted to downplay the emotions of two bitter rivals facing off in their respective conference openers Saturday.

To Kennedy, this game was the first of a 16-game grind through the SEC. While the meeting was on the Rebels' home floor, the initial thought was the final outcome wouldn't make or break a team that sat No. 14 nationally.

And after Ole Miss fell 80-75 to Mississippi State, Kennedy didn't change his tune. Though obviously disappointed with his team now 12-3 (0-1 SEC) on the year, the fourth-year head coach only sees opportunity.

"You bounce back," he said. "I thought we did some good things today, but obviously not enough to beat a good team. We've got to regroup and we've got to learn."

In the decisive second half, one where Ole Miss led by as much as nine points twice, the Rebels' weaknesses were exposed.

Kennedy has often talked of the team's poor transition defense, a defense that allowed Bulldog sophomore Dee Bost to drive to the basket at will. He racked up 17 of his game-high 25 points in the second period.

"We weren't getting back in transition. Bost is a good player," Chris Warren, Ole Miss' leading scorer with 15 points, said. "We'd score and he would take it 94 feet up the court and we don't talk and they got baskets."

"Coach preached to us all week about stopping him in transition," added Terrance Henry, who totaled 12 points and six rebounds in the loss. "He's a key to their team. We stopped him early sometimes, but he got the best of us."

Ole Miss shied away from the initial gameplan. The Rebels were looking to force action and go right at Jarvis Varnado. But when MSU went zone, they couldn't. The Bulldogs eliminated Ole Miss' dribble-penetration.

Eniel Polynice, who had totaled seven points and three assists in the first half, found trips to the paint more difficult due to the shot-blocking presence of Varnado.

"He changes the game," guard Zach Graham, one of the lone bright spots for Ole Miss with 14 points, said. "He did what we knew he was going to do. We took away his offensive part of the game, but he came in and affected the game defensively in the second half."

For Ole Miss to win consistently, Warren, Terrico White and Murphy Holloway have to produce. In the second half, outside of late points by Warren and White, the trio was non-existent.

Combined, the three totaled 24 points in the loss. Holloway didn't factor into any part of the game. His final line read zero points and one rebound. Warren and White were a combined 9-of-27 from the field.

"I was getting to the paint and I just couldn't finish," Warren said. "I just have to work on that and hopefully the next game they'll fall."

Now Ole Miss is on the road for four of its next five. Though an obvious observation, the task of winning an SEC Western Division crown just got a bit tougher.

Especially after a loss to the in-state rival, the team predicted to win it.

"We just have to be hungry and go get it," Warren said. "We just try to take this game and take it out on our next opponent."


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