Mississippi State completes season sweep of Ole Miss

Published 1:05 am Friday, February 12, 2010

STARKVILLE (AP) — Mississippi State scored a season sweep of archrival Mississippi and the Bulldogs set themselves up for a run at the NCAA tournament.

Yet, coach Rick Stansbury didn’t really care. His thoughts were already on Saturday’s game with Auburn.

‘‘Sweep them and not beat Auburn?’’ Stansbury said. ‘‘It doesn’t matter.’’

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Ravern Johnson scored 18 points and the Bulldogs (17-7, 5-4 Southeastern Conference) snapped out of a midseason stupor with a 71-63 win over the Rebels (17-7, 5-5) on Thursday night.

It was the fourth season sweep of Ole Miss in seven years for Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs stopped a freefall in which they’d lost four of five and sent the Rebels, who dropped out of the Top 25 this week, to their third loss in four games. It was Mississippi State’s 23rd win in 26 games in Starkville in the series, and certainly one of the most important in that string.

‘‘It was a must-win game for us,’’ said guard Barry Stewart, who scored 12 points for the Bulldogs. ‘‘The team came out with energy. We hadn’t been on for a while.’’

Both teams are teetering on the edge of NCAA tournament relevance and every win is precious.

So, Stansbury’s probably right to focus ahead so quickly. That Auburn matchup is sandwiched between a game with the Bulldogs’ archrival and Tuesday’s game with No. 3 Kentucky.

Stansbury says the wins against Ole Miss will probably look good on his team’s resume, but that document will not get consideration if the Bulldogs overlook the Tigers, who swept Mississippi State last season.

‘‘What we’ve got to have is that same emotion against Auburn,’’ Stansbury said.

Stansbury said he could see a spark in his players’ eyes that’s been absent over a stretch of four road trips in five games. And it was immediately evident against the Rebels.

Stewart and Dee Bost, who scored 11, opened with back-to-back 3-pointers, forcing Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy to call a timeout 43 seconds into the game.

That seemed to settle down Ole Miss. The Rebels forced seven straight missed shots and five turnovers in the next 6 minutes, fueling a 16-4 run. That gave Ole Miss an 18-12 lead, its biggest of the game, with 8:58 left in the half.

The Bulldogs outscored the Rebels 21-11 for a 33-29 halftime lead, though, and pressed that advantage immediately in the second half.

Johnson combined with Kodi Augustus on a 14-7 run to open the second half that helped the Bulldogs to their third straight win in the series — the longest streak since winning eight from 2002-05.

Augustus opened with a three-point play. Johnson hit two straight 3-pointers and a layup before Augustus finished the 14-7 run with another three-point play.

Johnson displayed his athleticism during that 5-minute span, hitting shots inside and out and taking advantage of his size against a much smaller Ole Miss team.

‘‘At 6-7, he doesn’t need much separation,’’ Kennedy said. ‘‘When you think you’re there, you’re not. Any time he got space, he made us pay.’’

Mississippi State wasn’t done, extending the run to 20-9 as the Bulldogs held the Rebels without a field goal for 3:34 to take a 53-38 lead, their biggest of the game.

The Rebels cut the lead to five twice, but the Bulldogs answered each time.

The game marked a continuation of troubles for the Rebels, whose only win in the last four games came after a 23-point rally against Alabama in a 74-67 victory on Saturday. Center Reginald Buckner has been out with a sprained ankle and Ole Miss hasn’t been the same. Forwards Murphy Holloway, DeAundre Cranston and Terrance Henry, who fouled out, were all ineffective in the second half because of foul trouble.

That forced Kennedy to go with a small lineup, and that group was unable to hit the long-distance shots required of a four-guard set.

The Rebels were nearly 18 points off their season average and missed 12 of their first 15 shots in the second half. They hit just 38 percent (27 of 71) overall and were worse from the 3-point line (6 of 26). Most importantly the Bulldogs held point guard Chris Warren nearly 14 points below his average of 16.8.

‘‘He’s kind of like the head of that snake,’’ Stansbury said of Warren. ‘‘He’s got three points and he’s 1 of 9. That’s huge.’’

Meanwhile, Mississippi State had one of its best offensive games in weeks. Ole Miss took away the lane and forced the Bulldogs to shoot from outside.

‘‘The looks that they were giving us, we couldn’t turn down the looks,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘It was a big game and we knew we had to knock them down.’’