GAME NOTES: Intrastate foes will renew a storied rivalry in the second round of the SEC Tournament at the Georgia Dome on Thursday night, as the 14th- seeded Mississippi State Bulldogs take on the sixth-seeded Ole Miss Rebels.
The winner will advance to the quarterfinals on Friday to face off against third-seeded Georgia.
Mississippi State came into this event having lost 13 in a row to situate itself alone in last place, but it picked a great time to snap out of its funk with an outstanding 82-68 victory over 11th-seeded Vanderbilt in the first round to improve to 14-18 on the campaign.
Ole Miss had lost six of seven prior to earning a 65-62 triumph over Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale to finish up its SEC slate of games 9-9. The Rebels, who won this event last year as a No. 3 seed, are now 18-13 on the campaign.
The teams split two games in the regular season, with each side winning on its home floor. After 249 all-time meetings between the rivals, Mississippi State leads by a 141-108 count.
The Bulldogs took a five-point advantage into intermission in their first- round contest and only improved upon that lead in the second stanza as they won for the first time in nearly two months. The squad shot just shy of 60 percent from the field and were led by a 20-point effort from Craig Sword, who made good on 8-of-13 from the field and also handed out six assists. Roquez Johnson poured in 18 points, Fred Thomas added 16 points and Gavin Ware scored 11.
It was a rare well-rounded performance for Mississippi State, which ranks near the bottom of the SEC in both scoring offense (67.8 ppg) and scoring defense (71.1 ppg). Sword puts up a team-best 13.6 ppg, Ware brings 10.1 ppg and 7.1 rpg to the frontcourt while shooting 59.1 percent from the field and Johnson (9.7 ppg), Thomas (9.1 ppg) and Colin Borchert (8.8 ppg) have also been solid.
The Rebels' losing streak appeared destined to continue last weekend as they trailed by 12 in the second half, but they pieced together a strong stretch run to capture the three-point victory. Although they shot only 33.3 percent from the field (including 5-of-22 from 3-point range), they held Vanderbilt to 40 percent shooting and owned a dominant 17-5 advantage in the turnover battle. Marshall Henderson was just 5-of-19 from the floor but still finished with 18 points, while Jarvis Summers poured in 12 points.
Ole Miss shoots only 41.6 percent from the field this season, but its up-tempo style and stellar +2.7 turnover margin has allowed it to generate an impressive scoring offense (75.2 ppg). Henderson leads the way with 19.0 ppg, and while he shoots just 36 percent from the field overall, his 120 3-pointers are third-most nationally. Summers brings 16.9 ppg to the table on 48.3 percent shooting (including 42.7 percent from 3-point range), and Aaron Jones makes up for his lack of scoring (6.0 ppg) with 6.7 rpg and 2.1 bpg.
Mississippi State suddenly has new life after suffering through such a long stretch of futility, but its high spirits are expected to be short lived against an explosive and rested Ole Miss squad.
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