Rebs whip Dogs

Published 5:40 pm Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy finally got a chance to celebrate.

“It wasn’t a celebration as much as it was a sigh of relief,” Kennedy admitted.

With his Rebels’ once-promising season slipping away, Ole Miss finally made a defensive stop, much to Kennedy’s relief.

Chris Warren scored 22 points, Dwayne Curtis had 10 points and 16 rebounds and Ole Miss held Mississippi State to 38.3 percent shooting in a 74-63 win Wednesday.

The victory split the season series and kept the Rebels’ long-shot hopes for a Southeastern Conference Western Division title rolling.

Ole Miss (18-7, 4-7 SEC) snapped its four-game losing streak and Mississippi State’s three-game winning streak, temporarily halting the Bulldogs’ sprint away from the division pack. The loss cut Mississippi State’s lead over Arkansas to one game and kept the Rebels alive in the race, though they’re still four games behind the Bulldogs (17-8, 8-3).

The win snapped a two-game skid at home and restored some of the Rebels’ lost confidence.

“Tonight was the last chance for us to get it going somewhere this season and we were tired of losing at home,” Curtis said. “It was our best defensive effort against an SEC team this year. We’ve been searching for defense for six games.”

The Rebels had five blocks, eight steals and limited the Bulldogs to 26.1 percent shooting from behind the 3-point line.

Ole Miss was especially effective in the paint, outscoring Mississippi State 40-28 even though it only got 25 points from its frontcourt of Curtis, Kenny Williams and Jeremy Parnell. But Curtis had nearly half of Ole Miss’ 41 rebounds and helped keep Mississippi State forward Charles Rhodes below his average with 13 points — half what he scored against Ole Miss last in an 88-68 win last month.

“Curtis is as big as anybody in the SEC,” Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. “His play down low was huge for them.”

Jamont Gordon scored 20 points for the Bulldogs and keyed a quick 9-0 run with two of Mississippi State’s three consecutive 3-pointers to pull within four, 61-57 with 4:47 left. But Curtis tipped in a missed shot on Ole Miss’ next possession and scored three straight baskets for the Rebels to help them finish the game on a 13-6 run.

“That was a huge play,” Stansbury said. “And then they separated from us.”

It looked as if Mississippi State might repeat its easy win earlier this season in the opening minutes.

The Bulldogs sprinted to a 23-16 lead on a quick 11-3 run that was started with two fall-away jumpshots by Rhodes. But Ole Miss turned up its defensive pressure and held the Bulldogs without a field goal for 7:29 during a 15-2 offensive rebound-fueled run that gave the Rebels a 31-25 lead with 5:18 left in the first half.

The Bulldogs were 0-for-7 during the stretch without field goals and scored just seven points in the final 12:18. They went 5-for-25 after starting the game by hitting 10 of 13 shots.

Ole Miss pulled down 15 offensive rebounds in the first half, which led to 11 second-chance points and helped the Rebels outscore the Bulldogs 20-12 in the paint. Mississippi State also hurt itself by missing five free throws in the half and 10 overall.

“We’ve just got to go back to basics,” said Mississippi State’s Jarvis Varnado, who finished with six points, six rebounds and six blocks. “We tied them in rebounds (41-41), but they had 15 offensive rebounds in the first half. That’s what killed us there.”

Mississippi State answered after Ole Miss’ run, holding the Rebels without a point for 4:51 and cut the lead to 31-30 with 2 minutes left. But the Rebels put together a quick 4-0 spurt in the final 27 seconds to lead 35-30 at halftime. They never trailed again, and now have a chance to reclaim a promising season that started with a 13-game winning streak.

“We have to build on it,” Kennedy said. “The season’s slipping away and there’s only five games left.”