When the final buzzer sounded at Humphrey Coliseum Saturday night, the shorthanded and exhausted Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-20, 3-13) had done what most considered impossible; they had played a full 40-minute contest against a potential NCAA Tournament at-large team, the University of Mississippi Rebels (21-8, 10-6).
But how? How was this even possible given the horrible statistics by an MSU team with a single numbered-roster??
One word: Heart.
After watching the SEC game from start to finish, this was the first time any fan, or even Rick Ray for that matter, had seen MSU go toe-to-toe with an opponent the entire game.
- Maybe it was the fact MSU hadn't tasted a win since January 12th. Since then, MSU had been completely embarrassed by opponents such as Florida, Missouri, and Vanderbilt. Many thought the same outcome would happen Saturday.
- Maybe it was because it was Ole Miss. The Rebels started the season 17-2. Since then, they've dropped an ugly six of the past ten games. Losses at South Carolina, Texas A&M, and now Mississippi State do not look pretty in an already mid-major-esque and top-heavy basketball conference such as the SEC. To be honest, losing to MSU would be the ugliest loss on anyone's schedule this season. But that is what the Bulldogs couldn't have cared less about yesterday. MSU had nothing else to lose and almost an entire season of redemption to gain. Think about it... It's like everything went "perfectly" the last 60 days to set the stage to burst Ole Miss' tournament bubble conversation in front of easily the loudest and largest Bulldog crowd at the Hump this 2012-2013 season.
- Maybe it was because a kid named "Bryce Drew" dressed out for the first time for the Rebels. Yes, Bryce Drew. But, no, not that Bryce Drew. With several players out for Ole Miss due to injuries, head coach Andy Kennedy allowed a team manager by the name of Bryce Drew to put on the red and blue. When news of this minor change hit the national and local media outlets many immediately pointed to the 1998 NCAA Tournament when Ole Miss, a No. 4 seed, battled Valparaiso University, a No. 13. Why? A now famous but totally different Bryce Drew hit one of the most memorable buzzer-beaters in recent tournament history. The other Drew never saw action against MSU, but it does leave us wondering if the preverbal curse of a Bryce Drew still lingers in Oxford.
Regardless of these reasons, Rick Ray coached a determined Bulldog team to a much-needed victory.
I'm just so proud for my guys. They've worked so hard all year, even with the losing, and now they have something to show for their effort. -Rick Ray
For Mississippi State, forward Colin Borchert led the way with a career-high 21 points to go with seven rebounds, three assists, and one steal in 30 minutes of play. Gavin Ware had one of his most complete games this season with 12 points and six rebounds down low. Jalen Steele and Roquez Johnson, who returned from a three-game suspension, both had 10 points. Craig Sword also got in the books with a career-high nine assists.
Coach always tells me, 'Once you hit a lot of threes they're going to be in your face.' So I just up-fake them and go to the rim. I just listen to the coach. He's a smart man, so I might as well use it. -Colin Borchert
As for Ole Miss, center Murphy Holloway recorded his 12th double-double of the season with a game-high 22 points and unreal 19 rebounds. At times, MSU had no answer for Holloway on the blocks. His wide frame and inside presence worried MSU down to the final seconds. Speaking of worrying, the SEC's leading scorer was also on the floor for the Rebels. Marshall Henderson, who actually finished with 16 points, shot a miserable 4-19 from the field and a whopping 3-18 from beyond the arc. In fact, Ole Miss shot 34% from the field for the game.
We can point to the fact that we missed shots or turned the ball over too much, but I thought that right from the start Mississippi State looked like the team that was fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives. I have no explanation for that. I'd like to sit up here as the leader of this program and give you a pointed answer to explanation. I have none. It's inexcusable. I don't know how that happens. -Andy Kennedy
In the end, MSU improved its series lead over Ole Miss to 140-107, and have won four-straight against the Rebels at the Hump. The Bulldogs improved to 7-3 on the year when leading at the half. MSU needed to play the best game of the year to beat Ole Miss... and they did just that. Assists (16) and rebounds (40) were season-best numbers while 27 out of 37 free throws tied their season high.
Mississippi State now shifts gears to Wednesday when they travel to South Carolina for a 6 p.m. tip. They'll host Auburn next Saturday in the season-closer on FSN at 4:30 p.m. Ole Miss hosts Alabama Tuesday and travels to Baton Rouge Saturday. The 2013 SEC Tournament begins March 13th in Nashville.