Bulldogs, Rebels both in need of a victory in Saturday showdown

Published 5:08 pm Friday, February 17, 2023

Ole Miss and Mississippi State both need a victory when they play each other Saturday afternoon in Oxford.

It’s just for entirely different reasons.

Mississippi State picked itself off the mat after losing seven of its first eight Southeastern Conference games to play its way onto the NCAA Tournament bubble.

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Ole Miss, meanwhile, seems stuck in a freefall with the bottom nowhere in sight.

A victory, especially in this in-state rivalry game, would do wonders for whichever team can seize it.

“I’m confident in our group. I really believe that come Saturday at 2:30 that we will come out of the gates fighting, scratching, clawing, putting our best foot forward and giving ourselves the best chance to win,” Mississippi State coach Chris Jans said. “Who knows what the outcome will be? I don’t think it’s going to be a lack of effort or a lack of focus in preparation heading into Oxford.”

Mississippi State (17-9, 5-8 SEC) had a five-game winning streak snapped with a 71-68 loss to Kentucky on Wednesday. The surge salvaged a season that was quickly spiraling out of control, but there is still a lot of work to do — and a good opportunity to get it done.

Three of the Bulldogs’ next four opponents, starting with Ole Miss, are ones that they’ve already beaten this season. Another game, Feb. 25 at home vs. Texas A&M, is an opportunity to pick up a quality win.

“We can’t hang our heads, we’re onto the next one. We have to get back to the drawing board, do our best and work hard,” Mississippi State forward Tolu Smith said after the loss to Kentucky.

The only way Ole Miss (10-16, 2-11) will qualify for the postseason is by making a miraculous run to the SEC tournament championship next month.

The Rebels have only won twice since mid-December. The latest loss came Wednesday against Florida, when a close game early in the second half quickly turned into a 79-64 blowout.

Five of the Rebels’ 13 losses since Dec. 17 have been by four points or less.

“We’ve played good enough. We’ve had nine games this year where we’ve led deep in second halves and haven’t won,” Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis said after the loss to Florida. “That’s the difference in some teams that have great years and teams that are struggling like us, is the inability to finish games.”

• Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
• TV: SEC Network
• Radio: 105.5 FM (Mississippi State) and 107.7 FM (Ole Miss)

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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