January 11, 2014 7:59:00 PM
STARKVILLE - Rick Ray's words were not heard by deaf ears Saturday.
The Mississippi State coach spoke all week about his team's "bugaboo" of second half collapses and the Bulldogs finished in strong fashion for a 76-72 win.
MSU ended its 15th victory in its last 16 home games against rival Ole Miss on a 14-6 run after blowing a first half lead at Kentucky just four days ago. The Bulldogs (11-4, 1-1 in Southeastern Conference) won the game at the foul line and with a key strategic defensive move to get its first SEC win of the 2013-14 season.
"This was obviously a great win for our guys, and it is not just because we beat Ole Miss, it is because we were faced with adversity and still came up with a way to win this basketball game," Ray said. "We have only eight scholarship players and we managed to continue that focus to close out a win."
Ole Miss senior guard Marshall Henderson was suspended for the game due to a school-imposed suspension announced in October.
Kennedy, who is from nearby Louisville, has only one victory in Starkville in his eight year with the Rebels. After the loss Kennedy said his team's consistent nature of setting for 29 three-point shots is a fatal flaw with 16 conference regular season games left.
Junior forward Roquez Johnson led MSU by tying a career high of 20 points mostly on his traditional putbacks and scattered drives against inexperienced Ole Miss front court players. Ray admitted Johnson's game isn't hard to plan for but the junior forward has ended up with seven double-figure games this season.
"Just keep him off the glass and don't let him drive right," Ray said. "I just think he is a hard match up because most guys are playing traditional power forwards, and he is not a traditional power forward because he has the ability to get by with his quickness and athletic ability."
Ray also recognized a way for MSU to aggressively break down Ole Miss' zone defense and got to the free throw line 42 times and attempted 30 more foul shots than the Rebels. MSU sophomore guard Craig Sword had to go back to in his memory to his junior varsity high school days for the last time he failed to make a field goal in a contest. However, MSU's leading scorer finished with 15 points as the 55.7 percent foul shooter drained 15 of 18 from the charity stripe.
In its SEC opener at No. 14 Kentucky, MSU was outscored by 25 in the second half by the Wildcats when Ray showcased his disappointment with the Bulldogs inability to maintain its identity against a quality opponent.
"There are not very many times when you win a basketball game where you are 4-of-21 from the three point line, shot 37 percent from the field, and yet we still found a way to win," Ray said.
Saturday marked the first win for MSU this season against a team ranked in the top 150 of the latest ratings percentage index. In front of a season high announced crowd of 8,841 the Bulldogs won nine of 10 home games in the 2013-14 season.
MSU will try to make it back-to-back SEC wins for the first time since last season's opening two conference games when they travel to Coleman Coliseum Wednesday for a 7 p.m. tip.
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