January 26, 2008

Rebels lose big to Mississippi State

STARKVILLE, Miss.- Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy paced up and down the Rebel bench, watching his team on offense.

Instead of the attacking, high-scoring Rebels that ran out to 15-straight wins to start the year, Kennedy saw a different team, and all he could do was shake his head.

The shots that had fallen bounced out; the lanes that had been open were closed. The offense looked stuck.

The SEC's top defense, Mississippi State, lived up to its reputation stifling No. 15 Ole Miss to 36.8-percent shooting on the way to a 88-68 win at Humphrey Coliseum.

Ole Miss has now lost two straight, and the 68 points represents a season low.

The Rebels defensive struggles continued against Mississippi State (14-5, 5-0 SEC). Ole Miss, which has allowed opponents to shoot 46.5 percent from the field, didn't contain any on the Bulldogs big weapons.

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy picked one word to describe what had gone wrong on the defensive end - "everything."

The Rebels (15-3, 2-3) allowed Mississippi State to shoot 69 percent from the field in the second half of a game that got out of control pretty quickly.

"After that whipping, I'm a little blurred," Kennedy said.

Senior Charles Rhodes led the way, taking advantage of a Rebel frontcourt besieged by foul trouble and injuries. Working in the post, facing the basket and above the rim, Rhodes scored an easy 26 points - a game-high.

And whether it was Jamont Gordon throwing a behind-the-head one-handed pass or reserve guard Riley Benock hitting one of his four three-point baskets, Mississippi State made every big play and every tough shot on the way to the 20-point win.

"It was like they were toying with us," sophomore Eniel Polynice said. "Anything they wanted to do, they did."

It started defensively, where the Bulldogs controlled the game near the rim with their shot-blocking ability. The country's top shot blocker, Jarvis Varnado, swatted four shots and Mississippi State blocked eight as a team.

"They did a good job blocking shots, and the ones they didn't, we seemed to rush," Kennedy said. "We weren't able to finish at the rim."

With the exception of Dwayne Curtis, who led Ole Miss with 18 points and 11 rebounds, the Rebels struggled mightily.

""We just wanted to do what we hang our hat on," Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury said. "We have a lot of pride defending the basketball. "

Freshman Chris Warren played one of the worst games of his young career, scoring 15 points on 5-of-20 shooting. Polynice added 14 points.

Kennedy said Gordon used his physically dominant body to help keep Warren out of rhythm.

"I thought his size and strength bothered him," Kennedy said, "It's our fault for being so dependent on a freshman who's only played 17 games coming into tonight.

"Tonight, Chris was a little out of his element."

And like they have in recent games, the Rebels continued to search for points from guards David Huertas and Trevor Gaskins.

The two players combined to shoot a ghastly 2-for-15 for just five points.

"David Huertas continues to struggle, and Trevor Gaskins isn't shooting it well," Kennedy said. "It's feast or famine sometimes."

Foul trouble forced Kennedy to look down his bench early in the game, and without Jermey Parnell available, the Rebels went looking for help upfront. With Kenny Williams saddled with three first-half fouls and Curtis hampered with a pair, Ole Miss turned to Malcolm White and Terrence Watson.

Both players responded, giving the Rebels valuable minutes early, and White excelled in the post, leading all scorers with nine first-half points.

But despite the strong bench effort, the Ole Miss offense struggled in the half.

Mississippi State's big men, Rhodes and Varnado, combined for 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

Ole Miss heads back home Wednesday, when the Rebels take on No. 13 Vanderbilt at Tad Smith Coliseum at 7 p.m.

And when the Rebels return home, Kennedy said he'd need to see a different attitude. Saturday, his team wasn't quite right.

"I thought for the first time since I've been the coach at Ole Miss, we didn't compete to the level we needed to in an atmosphere such as this against a good basketball team," Kennedy said. "When they hit us and knocked us to the deck, we didn't get up."

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