STARKVILE, Miss. (WCBI Sports/MSU Athletics) – For Mississippi State freshman basketball player I.J. Ready, the thrill of defeating arch-rival Ole Miss was even better in person.
“I saw the pictures and video from last year,” Ready said. “I know how big a win and how exciting that was. The guys told me what it was like. Still to be on the floor and experience it, it was even better in person.”
In the latest installment of the school’s most-contested rivalry, Mississippi State erased a five-point deficit late to defeat Ole Miss 76-72 in a Southeastern Conference men’s basketball game played before a season-best 8,841 in the Humphrey Coliseum.
“I am really proud of the guys because they found a way to win when facing some adversity,” MSU coach Rick Ray said. “We were 4-of-21 from 3-point range and only shot 37 percent from the field. However, we stayed together, played defense and found a way to get to the free throw line.
“Even when things weren’t going well, we stayed aggressive. That is why we were able to pull out what is a very big win.”
MSU improved to 11-4 overall and 1-1 in league play, while Ole Miss fell to 10-5 and 1-1. The Bulldogs have won five straight from the Rebels here at home and 15 of the last 16 games played on MSU’s home floor.
“I thought the crowd we phenomenal today and they were a big part of what we were trying to do,” Ray said. “The student section was almost full and the students aren’t even back in school yet. But I am also talking about the community, the alumni. They came back, filed up the arena and made this a very difficult place to play. That is hugely important for our guys.”
A year ago, MSU knocked off Ole Miss 73-67 in Starkville and in the postgame celebration, several MSU players leaped up into the student section. Saturday’s ending featured a similar refrain as the Bulldogs built an 11-point lead early in the second half but had to rally late to snag its home conference opener.
“When we got down, we stayed together,” MSU sophomore guard Craig Sword said. “We knew we had to keep penetrating and keep getting to the foul line.”
The Bulldogs did just that.
MSU hit 28-of-42 free throw attempts for the contest. Leading scorer Sword was blanked from the field but scored 15 points on a 15-of-18 night at the line.
“Craig has been working very hard at his free throws,” Ray said. “He has such a great move to the basket. If he can get the finishing part of the play down, it will add so much more to his arsenal.”
Despite a rocking coliseum, the Bulldogs fell down 6-0 immediately.
MSU eventually scored nine straight points and grabbed its first lead at 15-12 on a Colin Borchert 3-pointer. Borchert had 11 of his 14 points in the first half.
MSU ran the lead to seven at 33-26 and later led by nine on two occasions in the first half. A steal and layup by Ready as the half expired gave MSU a 43-36 lead.
In the second half, a tiring Bulldog squad finally gave up the lead on a 12-0 run by the Rebels. For Ole Miss, a layup by Derrick Millinghaus gave his squad a 58-54 lead with 9:57 left.
The Bulldogs rallied with Ready calling a team huddle and his team down 66-61.
“I just told them if we made some stops in a row, we could win the game,” Ready said.
MSU took the lead for good with seven straight points, including a game-tying jumper by Ready and two free throws by Roquez Johnson with 2:59 left.
Ole Miss held its last lead at 69-68. Two free throws by Sword turned things around for good with 2:26 left in the contest.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 22 of 58 shots from the field (37.9 percent), 4 of 21 shots from 3-point range (19.0 percent) and 28 of 42 shots from the foul line (66.7 percent). The Rebels hit 26 of 69 shots from the field (37.7 percent), 10 of 29 shots from 3-point range (34.5 percent) and 10 of 12 shots from the foul line (83.3 percent).
Ole Miss held a 47-37 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 17 assists and nine turnovers, while the Rebels had 11 assists and 16 turnovers.
Johnson led MSU with 20 points on a 7-of-11 night from the field and 6-of-12 night at the line. Ready also finished in double figures with 10 points. Gavin Ware had a team-high nine rebounds, while Sword had four assists and seven steals.
UM received 23 points from Jarvis Summers, 16 points from LaDarius White and 15 points from Millinghaus.
MSU visits Alabama at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The contest will be televised regionally by The SEC Network.