State nips Rebels

Published 5:13 pm Thursday, January 11, 2007

Barry Stewart was an afterthought for Mississippi State, a teammate of another recruit coach Rick Stansbury was chasing.

Stewart wasn’t invited to join the team until August, but the freshman guard moved to the forefront Wednesday night after scoring five consecutive points to end Mississippi’s last threat in a 77-67 win — the Bulldogs’ first Southeastern Conference victory.

“He’s better than we anticipated,” Stansbury said. “His basketball IQ is much better. That’s something you just don’t know.”

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Now he knows.

In a game dominated by Mississippi State’s frontcourt, the freshman used his court smarts to end a Rebels (11-5, 0-2 SEC) run early in the second half and put the Bulldogs (11-5, 1-1) ahead for good.

Using a barrage of 3-point shots, Ole Miss cut Mississippi State’s lead to 53-52 midway through the second half. But Stewart hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key — the only long-range shot for Mississippi State in the second half and one of four in the game.

“It was a big lift for us and the crowd got behind us,” Stewart said.

A minute later, Stewart found himself with a jump shot. But he used that IQ Stansbury talked about to put a bigger dent in Ole Miss.

“I saw a big guy on me, so I decided to drive and get the foul,” Stewart said.

He made the free throws and the Bulldogs were well on their way to an 18-4 run that put the game out of reach.

The win snapped Mississippi State’s three-game losing streak and is the 10th victory in the last 13 in the series. It was the Bulldogs’ 10th straight home win over Ole Miss and its 22nd victory in the last 24 in Starkville.

Stewart, who scored 12 points with five rebounds, wasn’t the only unexpected source of big plays. Fellow guard Dietric Slater, playing in his third game this season, came up with several while scoring 16 points and adding 12 rebounds, including six off the offensive glass.

The duo cut into the playing time of Jamont Gordon, the Bulldogs’ do-everything ballhandler who was limited to 20 minutes. But the dividends were obvious to Stansbury.

“I just thought we had some other guys playing well and I didn’t think Jamont was at his best tonight,” Stansbury said.

He was one of the few Bulldogs who struggled against the Rebels. Charles Rhodes, in his first start since Nov. 29, led Mississippi State with 17 points.

The Bulldogs had 10 blocks and scored 40 points in the paint.

Ole Miss tried to counter Mississippi State’s advantage in the frontcourt by shooting 32 3-point shots. The Rebels made 11, but faltered in the second half and finished shooting 32 percent from the field.

Todd Abernethy led Ole Miss with 20 points while making 4 of 9 3-pointers. Clarence Sanders finished with 17 points, hitting 4 of 16 3s.

Coach Andy Kennedy said the Rebels took several “ill-advised” shots and the team’s two leading scorers coming into the game — Sanders and Bam Doyne — were 9-of-39 from the field.

“I don’t care who you are, you’re not going to beat Mississippi State or the Mississippi School for the Blind when you’re two best shooters are 9-for-39,” Kennedy said.