GAME NOTES: Magnolia State rivals are set for a SEC showdown, as the Ole Miss Rebels have made the trek to Starkville for Saturday's clash with the last- place Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Ole Miss got off to the best start in program history at 17-2, only to slip in the standings with losses in four of its next five games. The team has since righted the ship with wins in three of its last four, most recently downing Texas A&M at home on Wednesday night, 82-73. The Rebels are 21-7 overall, and at 10-5 in conference, they are currently situated in fourth place, which would be good enough to earn an opening-round bye in the upcoming SEC Tournament.
Meanwhile, nothing has gone right for Mississippi State recently, as it has suffered 13 straight losses since starting its SEC slate at 2-0, which is the second-longest conference losing streak in program history. The Bulldogs traveled to Lexington on Wednesday and were easily dismissed by defending national champion Kentucky, 85-55.
With regard to the all-time series, Ole Miss has the upper hand, 140-106, which includes a 93-75 triumph in Oxford on Feb. 6.
After trailing late in the first half its last time out, Ole Miss closed out the frame on a 13-6 run to take a six-point lead into intermission and it held on to that advantage for the remainder of the contest. The Rebels were actually outshot by Texas A&M from the field, 53.6 percent to 50.9 percent, but they made the difference at the foul line by going 14-of-22, while the Aggies were just 4-of-9. Coming off the bench, Marshall Henderson shot a lackluster 6-of-19 from the field, but all six of those makes came from 3- point range as he finished with 18 points. Murphy Holloway (16 points, nine rebounds) and Reginald Buckner (12 points, seven rebounds, three blocks) combined to shoot 12-of-14 in the frontcourt, while Jarvis Summers chipped in 15 points and four assists. On the season, the Rebels have the nation's sixth- ranked offense, scoring 79.3 ppg, and they are paced by the efforts of Henderson, who nets 19.6 ppg and ranks among the nation's leaders in 3- pointers (111), but his overall field goal percentage (.383) leaves a lot to be desired. Holloway brings 14.5 ppg and 9.4 rpg to the table, and Buckner tallies 9.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg and 2.8 bpg, all while shooting 61.8 percent from the field.
For the fourth time in the last six games, Mississippi State lost by at least 25 points, as it shot a lowly 32.1 percent from the field while allowing Kentucky to net nearly 55 percent of its total shots. Fred Thomas was far from exemplary (5-of-13 from the floor), but he still finished with a team-high 13 points, six rebounds and two steals. Colin Borchert and Jalen Steele chipped in 10 points apiece in the setback. Not surprisingly, the Bulldogs' futile ways this season has allowed them to rank last in the SEC in several statistical categories, including scoring offense (59.2 ppg), scoring defense (69.6 ppg), field goal percentage (.396), 3-point percentage (.351), field goal percentage defense (.444) and rebounding margin (-4.5). The good news for MSU is that several players get in on the action on a nightly basis, as it has seven performers netting at least 6.0, although the top scorers Craig Sword (9.8 ppg), Steele (9.7 ppg) and Thomas (9.6 ppg) all shoot below 40 percent from the field. Ware is in the midst of a solid freshman campaign with 8.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg and nearly a block per contest.
Simply put, Mississippi State does not have the talent commensurate with most other teams in the SEC, especially not an Ole Miss squad attempting to make a late push into the NCAA Tournament. The home court advantage won't matter much for the Bulldogs, and their losing streak is going to continue.
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