Ole Miss, which overcame a 23-point deficit against Alabama five days prior, trailed Mississippi State by as many as 15 in the second half in Starkville. The Rebels twice battled within five of the in-state rival, but weren't able to finish.
Instead, and for the second of two games this season, Ole Miss came out on the losing end. This time, it was a 71-63 final in front of an announced crowd of 9,401 fans inside Humphrey Coliseum.
"It's just a lack of concentration," junior guard Eniel Polynice said of falling behind by double-digits in the second half. "Everybody has to come out with the right focus. It can't just be five or six players. It has to be the whole team. When the whole team comes out with the right concentration and the right mindset, we're unbeatable."
With the loss, Ole Miss falls to 17-7 overall and 5-5 in SEC play. Polynice led the team in scoring with 14 points. Terrico White, who didn't draw the start for the first time this season, added 13 points. Zach Graham followed with 11.
The Rebels were 38 percent (27-71) from the floor, compared to 49 percent (24-49) for Mississippi State. Ole Miss was just 6-for-26 in 3-point attempts.
"We're pretty competitive," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. "We'll continue to fight. Our problem, again, is we're so small. We played four guards for the majority of the second half for a variety of reasons. When we're so small, it puts a premium on making shots. It's who we are with that lineup. We just weren't good enough tonight."
Aided by back-to-back 3-pointers to open the game, Ole Miss fell behind 8-2 early. However, the Rebels used an 11-3 run to pull ahead 13-11. Ole Miss built its lead to six points twice, including 20-14 midway through the period, but the Bulldogs made good on three consecutive attempts from long distance.
With 6:19 remaining in the first half, Mississippi State (17-7, 5-4 SEC) held a trim advantage at 23-22. The Bulldogs kept Ole Miss at arm's distance for the remainder, though Trevor Gaskins trimmed the deficit, 33-29, with a 3-pointer before halftime.
Terrence Henry scored two points to open the second half, but it was all Mississippi State from there.
Ravern Johnson, who scored eight points in the first half, quickly added seven more to give his team a 44-36 lead midway through the second half.
"We told our guys, at 6-foot-7, Ravern doesn't need much separation," Kennedy said. "When you think you're there, you still have to take another step. Anytime we made a mistake, he made us pay."
With two minutes to play, Ole Miss posed its final threat.
After a jumper by Gaskins, the Rebels trailed 65-60. However, after a Graham miss, Jarvis Varnado was left alone on the other end. The nation's second-leading shot blocker punctuated the victory with a dunk, and it was all but over with 35 seconds left.
"I was awful proud of our team not for winning the game, but the way we had to win the game," Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury said. "We were coming off a tough stretch. Four of our last five have been on the road. We lost all four of them and all four were tough losses. Then you have to come back home to face a team who came back from 20 points at halftime. I'm awful proud of how our kids responded."
Johnson totaled a game-high 18 points in the win. Varnado collected his 14th double-double of the year with 11 points and 11 rebounds. The Bulldogs won the rebounding battle, 39-36, over Ole Miss.
The Rebels have now lost three of their last four games.
Though forward Reginald Buckner has yet to be cleared by team doctors, Kennedy said postgame he hopes the freshman will be back against Vanderbilt next week at 6 p.m. Buckner is no longer in a walking boot.
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