STARKVILLE – The Ole Miss men's basketball team fell to their in-state rival Mississippi State, as a strong second half from the Bulldogs proved to be the difference in a 78-60 loss at Humphrey Coliseum on Saturday.
While the Rebels (9-9, 1-5 SEC) maintained a hot hand in the first half, shooting 61.5 percent from the field on a 16-of-26 clip, it was a late 17-3 run by Mississippi State (13-5, 4-2 SEC) sparked by leading Rebel scorer Matthew Murrell's fourth foul that ended up letting the Bulldogs separate down the stretch. MSU would end the game shooting 54.7 percent on 29-of-53 shooting, while forcing 16 total Rebel turnovers on the night.
"It was a great atmosphere and I thought the first half was played at a high level. We just played confidently offensively, the ball moved, we got downhill," said Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis. "The second half, the game was just points in the paint and points off turnovers. Our inability to take care of the ball gave them a lot of turnovers, and then we just couldn't guard them around the goal."
From the opening tip, the Rebels saw themselves in a battle with the Bulldogs, with the lead swapping seven times in the opening 9:06 of play and the largest lead only amounting to four points in favor of Mississippi State. After the Rebels regained the lead on a pair of Nysier Brooks free throws at the 12:15 mark, the Bulldogs saw their best scoring run of the half in the form of an 8-0 run, pushing Mississippi State up into a 25-18 lead.
Despite this run, the Rebels held firm and chipped away at the deficit, eventually retaking the lead following a 12-2 run of their own between 8:13 and 4:56 to take a 35-30 advantage. When the first 20 minutes were up, the Bulldogs held a tight 42-41 halftime lead over the Rebels after a total of nine lead changes in the first half.
In a back-and-forth opening frame, Ole Miss shared the wealth on the offensive end of the floor with four different Rebels scoring seven or more points to help keep the Bulldogs within striking distance. Matthew Murrell's 14 points led the way for Ole Miss, a bit of déjà vu for the Rebel sophomore after dropping 23 in the first half of a 31-point explosion vs. MSU at home on Jan. 8.
The Bulldogs would come out of the locker room energized, forcing turnovers on the Rebels' first two possessions of the half. Ole Miss would continue to keep Mississippi State within reach despite them, as the Bulldogs would only extend their lead to as much as six in the first eight minutes of play.
However, the Rebels reached a major turning point when Murrell logged his fourth foul of the night with 12:57 to play, forcing him to the bench. What followed was a 6:39 scoring drought for the Rebels that featured a 15-0 Bulldog run to jump ahead 66-49. Leading the way was Iverson Molinar, who tallied 20 points for Mississippi State on the night.
MSU's scoring run would finally end up as a 17-3 streak from 11:55 to 4:31. This run proved too much for the Rebels to bounce back from, as the Bulldogs would carry their lead to the game's conclusion, downing the Rebels by a score of 78-60. Three players would end the night in double figures for Ole Miss: Matthew Murrell (14 points), Jaemyn Brakefield(13 points) and Nysier Brooks (12 points).
Ole Miss will now return to Oxford for what will be the start of a three-game home stand on Monday, as the Rebels host the Florida Gators (12-6, 3-3 SEC) at SJB Pavilion, with tipoff set for 6 p.m. CT on SEC Network+.