The 18th-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs travel north to take on Ole Miss tonight in the longest running rivalry in school history.
The two teams have squared off 243 times with the State coming out on top a school-best 138 times, and for the Bulldogs, a win in the 244th meeting means they’ve tied a 96-year-old record.
The Bulldogs (15-3, 2-1) haven’t won four-straight in Oxford since the 1914-16 seasons and while that is significant to the team, MSU senior point guard Dee Bost understands this is the one the fans really want.
“You can lose three games in a row but if you lose to Ole Miss, that game probably means more to our fans and our school,” said Bost, who stands second in scoring with 16.1 points per outing. “Playing Ole Miss, you always have to come to play because everybody is watching.”
While the players are hyped for the matchup, Rick Stansbury knows they must continue with their plan, one game at a time.
“We don’t try to do a lot of gimmicks or use things differently,” said the 14-year head coach of the Bulldogs. “We try to stay pretty consistent. This is the next opportunity and it is the biggest game of the year because why? Because it is the next one.”
If State wants to continue its dominance over the Rebels (11-6, 1-2), it will need to neutralize one of the best posts in the SEC.
“There’s no question that (Murphy) Holloway and (Reginald) Buckner are big-time athletes who can really rebound that basketball and that’s a concern,” said Stansbury of the post players who are among the top for in the Southeastern Conference in rebounding. “Ole Miss is probably as athletic, or more athletic, than any of them at that five-spot with Buckner. He is a big-time athlete around that hole. I don’t know that anybody we’ve played is athletic and guards that basket as well as he guards it.”
Ole Miss is paced in scoring by Jarivs Summers, a freshman from Jackson, with 10.8 points per game. He’s followed closely by Terrance Henry and Holloway with 10.7 and 10.6 points per game respectively.
The trio has played a large role in keeping Ole Miss on the winning track.
“They are undefeated. Nobody has beaten them at home. They are a very good team. They are very talented,” said Stansbury. “Buckner, Holloway and Henry are about as athletic as any three guys on that backline. Henry has put up big numbers for a lot of years up there. Holloway is one of the better rebounders in this league. Buckner is their all-time leading shotblocker. They are very very talented in the backline and young in the perimeter. Summers has really stepped up and really I’m sure much better than they anticipated.”
The Bulldogs will counter with the reigning SEC Player of the Week in Arnett Moultrie. The junior forward continues to lead the SEC in rebounding (10.9 points) and is in the top five in the league in scoring (16.5).
Moultrie has been seeing more double teams in recent games but that hasn’t kept him from fighting for the league lead in double-doubles with nine.
“I'm sure people will continue to be more conscious of him,” said Stansbury. “You know Tennessee did a good job keeping him off some backboards. They were using big physical guys, like Hall or Maymon, and limited his rebounding moreso than anyone has all year long.
“He does something that's not easy to do. It's hard to double team an offensive rebounder. We're not a really easy team to consistently double team, especially at the four spot. It's easier to double out of five than the four. But he's going to draw attention. Those nights he does draw that attention, other people have to pick up the slack.”
When that time comes State will turn to Bost who has had success in Oxford during his career.
“Well, you know Dee has been pretty good in a lot of places and fortunately we’ve found ways to win up there the last three times,” said Stansbury.
Fortunately for Mississippi State, a player who had success last year in Oxford is coming off his best outing of the year and that's Renardo Sidney.
“No question that was his most minutes of the year, and probably the hardest he had played for 28 minutes,” Stansbury said of Sidney’s play against Alabama. ”His defensive presence was a factor in that game. The physicality of him guarding Green – again, he made a huge play late in that game. It was a defensive stop. Hopefully, he can take something from that and keep carrying it over to other parts of his game.”
No matter how well the Bulldogs are playing, or how much success individuals have had in Oxford, Stansbury understands none of that matters.
“Every year you go up there, you take a different team, and this team will be different,” he said. “That is all in previous years. It has nothing to do with this year.”