Mississippi State forward Roquez Johnson. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
Rick Ray is pretty familiar with in-state rivalries.
The first-year Mississippi State head coach spent three years at Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind. The rivalry between the Boilermakers and the Indiana Hoosiers is one of the biggest rivalries in college basketball.
"In Indiana, you had the Purdue-Indiana rivalry," Ray said. "Basketball is so important in that state so it meant so much to so many people."
Ray gets his first taste of the Mississippi State-Ole Miss basketball rivalry today. The Bulldogs travel to Oxford for an 8 p.m. tipoff. It can be seen on CSS.
"We can't get wrapped up in the rivalry over what we need to do to win the rivalry," Ray said.
MSU and Ole Miss are meeting for the 246th time. The Bulldogs have beaten the Rebels 139 times and 43 times on the road. MSU has won seven out of the last 10 and 21 out of the last 28 in the series.
For many Bulldogs on the roster, this will be their first time to play the Rebels.
"I told them 'probably the number one game we are going to play this year is Ole Miss," MSU sophomore forward Roquez Johnson said. "The atmosphere is crazy. That's our rival.' I told them 'have their heads up, be prepared because it's going to be rough.'"
The Bulldogs (7-13, 2-6) come in on a six-game losing streak. MSU hasn't lost seven in a row since 2006.
The Rebels (17-4, 6-2) started out 6-0 in the Southeastern Conference. They suffered two losses to Kentucky at home and Florida on the road last week to come into the matchup with a two-game losing streak.
"This week marks the midpoint of league play," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. "We're coming off a tough week, two tough losses to two good teams and had to deal with some personnel issues as it relates to injuries. I'm looking forward to getting back home (today) and hosting our in-state rival."
The Rebels will be without sophomore forward Aaron Jones who is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Senior guard Nick Williams suffered a foot injury against Kentucky and had his cast removed Monday. It is unsure when he will be back.
The Rebels lead the SEC in scoring with 79.2 points per game.
Ole Miss also has the league's top scorer in junior guard Marshall Henderson. Henderson is averaging 19.5 points per game.Â
Henderson has garnered a good amount of media attention with his intensity on the court.Â
"We don't want any incidents on the court or off the court," Ray said. "Marshall Henderson is a combustable young man, so we need to make sure we keep our cool."
Henderson also leads the SEC in 3-pointers made with 83. That's 32 better than Georgia's Kentavious Cladwell-Pope.
"What makes Marshall Henderson so good is his ability to cut," Ray said. "There's very few people in college basketball that can make shots on a cut. There's a lot of guys that can make shots standing still on drive and kick. The way we guard him when he has the ball doesn't really change much because we're always on the basketball, but what will change is the way we guard him off the ball because of all the screens they set.
"The only way you can frustrate him is with your defense. How we talk about what he does and how he acts has no barring on his shot selection. We have to contest all his shots that leads the SEC in scoring. He's going to get looks but you have to limit his good looks."
The Bulldogs feel confident that they can stop Henderson and are not worried about his attitude on the court.
"He is a great scorer," Johnson said. "I think we are going to be able to contain him. I think we'll be alright. I watched him play on TV. He has a lot of jawing. We are not going to pay attention to that."
Ole Miss also sports the top rebounder in the SEC. Senior Murphy Holloway leads the league with 10.1 boards per game.
MSU freshman guard Fred Thomas leads the Bulldogs with 10.5 points per game. Johnson and freshman guard Craig Sword each average 9.6 points per outing.Â
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