Bulldogs seek better effort against Rebels

Mario Kegler of MSU passes the basketball against Ole Miss
Staff Writer

As a Mississippi boy, playing against Ole Miss is a big deal for Mario Kegler.
The Mississippi State freshman grew up around the rivalry and he relishes the chance to face off with his instate foe Tuesday night at 8 p.m. when the Bulldogs (14-12, 5-9) and Rebels (16-11, 7-7) meet at Humphrey Coliseum.
However Kegler knows, to fully enjoy himself, MSU can’t afford a repeat of what happened in State’s first game against Ole Miss back on Jan. 31 when the Rebels handed the Bulldogs their biggest loss of the season, an 88-61 defeat in Oxford.
“We just came out in that game nonchalant and too cool,” Kegler said. “In the end, it showed.”
Kegler and his teammates will look for redemption tonight. To get it, MSU head coach Ben Howland says everything starts on the defensive end.
“Our transition defense (in the first game against Ole Miss) was horrible,” Howland said. “That was the worst transition defense we’ve played all season and they exploited it.
“The other thing we didn’t do well is we didn’t guard the ball. They were driving us and driving us and driving us. They really got to the basket.”
MSU will have reinforcements on the floor to try and prevent defensive lapses this time. In the first meeting, freshman guard Lamar Peters was injured and dealt with a hip pointer throughout the game before leaving for good.
Perhaps an even bigger factor was that MSU’s lone senior, guard I.J. Ready, didn’t play at all three weeks ago against Ole Miss due to a calf injury.
Howland is happy to have Ready back for the rematch.
“It will help us a lot to have I.J. because he’s played against (Ole Miss) and played against that system before,” Howland said. “He makes us way better defensively because he has a lot of experience and he’s the most verbal in terms of communicating and telling guys what to do. He’s the best guy we have in transition defense and remembering his job. That goes with having that experience and being a senior.
“He’s definitely going to help us do a lot better than we did the last time we played them.”
Kegler, too, is excited to face the Rebels at full strength.
“A couple of guys were down (the first game against Ole Miss),” Kegler said. “With everybody back 100 percent, I think we can have a better outcome.”
Even though State appears to be back healthy, Ole Miss will still be a difficult test for the Bulldogs. The Rebels have won four of their last six games and have posted 80 or more points in five of those contests.
Deandre Burnett leads Ole Miss in scoring with his 16.9 points per game average. Sebastian Saiz averages a double-double for the Rebels with 15 points and a team-high 11 rebounds per contest.
Yet Kegler is confident MSU is up for the challenge. Three weeks have passed since Ole Miss put a hurting on Mississippi State. Kegler says the Bulldogs have been counting down the days to have the chance to redeem themselves.
“We’ve been waiting for this game for a long time,” Kegler said.