Bulldogs, Rebels renew rivalry tonight

Published 12:30 am Tuesday, January 31, 2017

When they tip off tonight in Oxford, it will mark the 254th time Ole Miss and Mississippi State have played each other in men’s basketball. It’s the most-played rivalry in the Southeastern Conference.

Few times, in recent years at least, have both teams needed to beat the other more.

Ole Miss (12-9, 3-5 SEC) has lost two games in a row and struggled to gain traction in league play. Mississippi State (13-7, 4-4) has dropped three of its last four SEC games after winning three of the first four.

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Both teams desperately need a victory to get their seasons back on track heading into the second half of the SEC season, as well as for bragging rights and everything else that goes with the rivalry off the court.

“Ole Miss, Mississippi State, that’s what it’s all about. That’s why you come to Mississippi State, is to beat Ole Miss,” Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said at his weekly press conference on Monday. “I think the fans of both universities are passionate. It’s a great rivalry, and that’s what makes athletics is having these intense rivals. It raises your level of play.”

Ole Miss has lost six of its last nine games overall, and rebounding has emerged as a big reason why lately.

Texas A&M had a plus-16 rebounding advantage over the Rebels in an 80-76 win last week, and No. 5 Baylor was plus-10 in beating the Rebels 78-75 on Saturday.

After the loss to Baylor, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy ripped his team for its effort.

“I think part of the rebounding problem is guys not willing to get uncomfortable and truly commit to the fight,” Kennedy said. “I’m playing 22- and 23-year old guys 25, 28 and 29 minutes. They got as many rebounds as a dead man. That tells me they’re not engaged in the fight. We’ve got to get in the fight.”

Despite their struggles, Howland said his Bulldogs will have their hands full. DeAndre Burnett is fifth in the league in scoring at 16.9 points per game. Forward Sebastian Saiz leads the SEC and ranks sixth in the nation pulling down 11.2 rebounds a game. Saiz is the only player in the SEC this season averaging a double-double.

“They’ve got a good team. They’re very athletic. Saiz is a fantastic player. (Terence) Davis is one of the most improved players in our conference,” Howland said. “They’ve got good players and they’re playing really hard, and they change defenses. So it’s constantly changing, giving you different looks, making you react to different things, and then they run really good stuff offensively.”

Tuesday, 6 p.m.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 1490 AM/107.7 FM (Ole Miss) and 105.5 FM (Mississippi State)

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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