Mississippi State takes down Ole Miss for key SEC victory

Published 9:06 am Thursday, February 22, 2024

STARKVILLE (AP) — The Bulldogs won the battle of the bubble.

Tolu Smith III scored 24 points and Mississippi State turned back rival Ole Miss 83-71 on Wednesday to split the season series and break their tie in the Southeastern Conference standings.

Ole Miss overcame a 12-point deficit in the first half and cut an 11-point deficit to four with more than five minutes to go but the Bulldogs ran off nine straight points to end it.

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Shakeel Moore and Keshawn Murphy both scored 12 points for Mississippi State (18-8, 7-6 SEC), which has won four games in a row. Cameron Matthews scored 10 of his 11 points after halftime.

“The second half, I thought a few things happened,” Mississippi State head coach Chris Jans said. “I thought Cam Matthews set the tone defensively with some big plays, some hustle plays. People talk about 50-50 balls, well he got a ball that was 20-80. I didn’t think he had any chance of getting that ball, and I really felt that gave us a boost. And then the crowd got into the game.”

Mathew Murrell finished with 23 points and eight rebounds for Ole Miss (19-7, 6-7), whose NCAA Tournament hopes took a hit with its fourth loss in five games. Jaylen Murry and Allen Flanigan each scored 12.

Ole Miss won the first meeting 86-82. Mississippi State has only reached 80 points twice in SEC play, both against the Rebels.

Mississippi State’s Dashawn Davis started and ended the game-clinching run with layups at 4:15 and with 45 seconds remaining for an 84-68 lead.

Ole Miss hit a late 3, which made it a 1-for-9 second half from behind the arc.

Mississippi State helped keep Ole Miss in it by missing 16 foul shots (23-of-39). Ole Miss was 19-of-21 from the stripe.

The free throw discrepancy was a sore point for Ole Miss coach Chris Beard. Ole Miss had two players foul out, including Flanigan, and two others finish the game with four fouls. Mississippi State had two players with four fouls, but Smith and Jimmy Bell Jr. both had none while working in the post.

Smith was 8-for-15 from the free throw line. He also had six rebounds to go along with his 24 points.

“It’s amazing to me that Smith and Bell, the two five-men, had zero fouls in a game. I’m just reading what’s on the stat sheet. Two physical players, in an SEC game late in February, they played 40 minutes in the five-spot and have zero fouls in a game,” Beard said.

“To me, if this was a North Carolina-Duke, or a Kansas-Baylor, this would get some national attention and some people might take a look at the film,” Beard continued. “Zero fouls on two guys that are really physical players. On the other end, we have multiple players foul out of the game. Give Mississippi State credit. A lot of these possessions were where the most aggressive person won the possession. But in all my years of coaching I have not been involved in a game like that.”

Ole Miss was up by one with less than 14 minutes to go when Murphy put the Bulldogs on top 56-55. That ignited a 14-2 run with Murphy scoring seven. Moore made the last two baskets for a 68-57 lead with 9:51 left.

The Rebels made three free throws but didn’t get a basket until the 6:33 mark when Murrell pulled them within 70-62. Ole Miss missed five shots, had five turnovers and Beard picked up a technical foul.

“The message was bottle up that first 10 minutes of the first half, how we played defense and try to implement that again, and just try to guard the ball, be real active and just be in attack mode,” Matthews said.

Mississippi State only had two turnovers in the second half to the Rebels’ 10, and pulled down seven offensive rebounds to keep possessions alive.

Forty-nine of the Bulldogs’ 83 points came from the reserves, while Ole Miss only saw 11 points from its bench.

“We’ve got the utmost faith in all our guys, top to bottom,” Matthews said.

Mississippi State is at LSU on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Ole Miss hosts South Carolina at 2:30 p.m. Both games will be televised on the SEC Network.