Ole Miss surging, Mississippi State regrouping ahead of Saturday game

Published 5:00 pm Friday, January 11, 2019

It’s been 17 years since Ole Miss and Mississippi State reached the NCAA Tournament in the same season for the only time.

That drought might end this year.

Ole Miss is 12-2, riding a nine-game winning streak, and earned an impressive 82-67 win over No. 11 Auburn on Wednesday. Mississippi State is also 12-2 and ranked No. 14 in the country, despite losing to South Carolina in its Southeastern Conference opener.

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The Rebels and Bulldogs hit an early-season crossroads Saturday, when they meet in Starkville for the first of two head-to-head matchups.

It’s a key game for both teams — an opportunity for Ole Miss to gain a Top 50 win and improve to 3-0 in SEC play, and for Mississippi State to avoid an 0-2 hole in the league and its first losing streak of the season.

“I haven’t been back there in a long time,” Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis said. “I have a lot of pals that will be there and I said it at my press conference and I will say it again, nobody at Humphrey Coliseum will want to beat Mississippi State more than Kermit Davis. I promise you that.”

Davis’ upbeat attitude is understandable considering the way the Rebels have played lately. They haven’t lost since Thanksgiving weekend, and the rout of Auburn was their seventh win by double digits during the nine-game streak.

The Rebels are ranked 29th in the NCAA’s NET rankings that are help determine at-large berths in the NCAA Tournament. Beating Auburn was the latest step in building a tournament resumé, but the Rebels are well aware there’s a long way to go to complete it.

“I don’t want to settle for mediocre,” said forward Terence Davis, who had 27 points and 12 rebounds against Auburn. “I think it’s a signature win, but we’ve still got a ways to go.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Mississippi State is coming off an 87-82 overtime loss to South Carolina that snapped a nine-game winning streak.

Mississippi State’s ranking is its highest since reaching No. 11 in January 2005, but will likely fall when the next poll is released on Monday. Another loss to an unranked team, no matter how hot, might drop the Bulldogs out of the poll entirely.

Like Davis, Mississippi State coach Ben Howland was trying to keep things in perspective even if he knows his team has work to do.

“We’ve got 17 more games coming up like this one,” Howland said after the loss to South Carolina.

Against South Carolina, Howland freely ackowledged he and the Bulldogs did not play their best. He criticized himself for not using his bench enough — all five starters played at least 34 minutes — and the rest of the team for some other shortcomings.

The Bulldogs were only 13-for-23 at the free throw line and got outrebounded 47-40. After Quinndary Weatherspoon hit a jumper to tie the game at 75 with 1:50 left in regulation, the Bulldogs missed their last two shots before time expired and did not get an offensive rebound on either one.

They then committed four of their 16 turnovers in overtime.

“We’ve got to shore up some things,” Howland said. “We’ve got to a better job rebounding. We’ve got to shoot foul shots better, and we’ve got to take better care of the basketball.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

• Saturday, Noon
• Radio: 1490 AM/107.7 FM (Ole Miss); 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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