January 11, 2011 8:58:00 AM
David Miller -
The Mississippi State and University of Mississippi men''s basketball teams lost their Southeastern Conference openers Saturday, but only one team left its game feeling better about how it played.
Ole Miss (12-4, 0-1 SEC) lost at the University of Florida 77-71, but outrebounded the league''s top team in that category and received 13 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocked shots from foul-plagued Reginald Buckner.
Senior guard Chris Warren led the team with 20 points, his eighth 20-point game of the season.
"We''ve done well on the glass the last six or seven games, but not against a team as big and as talented and as athletic as Florida," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said Monday during the SEC teleconference. "And yet we came out with a one-rebound advantage, which shows me that maybe we can hold our own on the glass during the stretch of this SEC grind."
MSU, which will roll into Oxford at 8 p.m. Thursday (ESPN2), is at an opposite end of the spectrum following a second-half meltdown to Alabama. The Bulldogs (8-7, 0-1) trailed by a point at halftime before falling 75-57.
Once-heralded and much-opined forward Renardo Sidney played a solid half of defense but scored two points and missed seven shots. Once he tired -- Saturday was his third college game -- Alabama''s JaMychal Green took advantage, scoring 16 second-half points.
Starting point guard Dee Bost returned and led the team with 14 points and five assists, but he lacked lift on shots and struggled physically after missing the first 14 games due to an NCAA-mandated suspension.
As was a theme of his 11-minute stint on the teleconference, MSU coach Rick Stansbury said developing a better rhythm is a key if his team wants to snap out of its current five-loss-in-six-games stretch.
"We had a good week of preparation," Stansbury said. "It''s just our situation is so different, but it''s what it is. So much newness and trying to put it all together. You gotta do it in SEC play. There''s just no time to wait."
The Bulldogs can ill-afford to fall to 0-2 in the SEC with games against No. 24 Georgia, Vanderbilt, and Florida to close January.
MSU''s form has dipped tremendously since embarking on a road trip that lasted two weeks and left the team without forward Elgin Bailey, who was suspended for his involvement in a fight with Sidney in Hawaii and sent home. Bailey announced after the team returned from its trip that he would transfer.
The hangover extended when backup guard and one-time starter Twany Beckham also announced he planned to transfer.
As much experience as a coach would like to take away from a strenuous road slate, Stansbury refuses to even think about it.
"There''s nothing I want to look back on that road trip about," Stansbury said. "You ask me if there''s anything positive from it? There wasn''t anything positive from that road trip, anything that happened on it. Nothing was good. We try to put that behind us."
Kennedy''s chore is to shore up loose ends and to get continued production from post players Buckner and Terrance Henry.
Against Florida, Kennedy was forced to go with freshman Demarco Cox and Dundrecous Nelson down the stretch and was disappointed to put first-year players in that situation.
However, he takes comfort in the way the team handled the second half.
"As strange as this may sound, there are games sometimes you lose and games your opponents win," he said. "I didn''t think we lost the game, I really believe Florida won the game. They made big play after big play down the stretch."
What''s wrong with Ravern?
While Bost and Sidney gained most of the headlines before and after MSU''s loss to Alabama, leading scorer Ravern Johnson''s ongoing shooting slump didn''t attract much attention.
The senior wing-man entered the Alabama game on a 23-for-73 shooting dip that spanned the team''s dismal five-game road trip.
In a 75-57 loss to the Crimson Tide, Johnson was 3 of 16 from the floor and scored just eight points. He didn''t attempt a free throw and had only two rebounds and a blocked shot in 40 minutes.
Johnson was hampered by illness and didn''t practice for three days at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii.
With an undermanned squad, teams began to defend him differently in the Bahamas, Hawaii, and Las Vegas.
The roster shakeup and returns of Bost and Sidney also have affected his performance, Stansbury said.
"Last night at home, there was a lot of tightness in the whole team," Stansbury said. "The newness of Dee being out there and Sid, I didn''t think our rhythm and chemistry was very good."
Johnson had much of his early-season success as the team''s first option in games against lower-level competition.
Now, Johnson must find his way to return to form with Bost at point guard and Sidney at center.
Stansbury said "rhythm" between his players will help raise individual performances.
As for Johnson, who is 9 of 43 from the 3-point line in the past six games, the rhythm he establishes with Bost could be most pivotal.
Bost''s ability to get into the lane and kick out to Johnson was a recipe for success last season, but Stansbury would like to see Johnson drive to the basket.
Johnson had 15 free-throw attempts against St. Mary''s but didn''t get to the line against Alabama.
"No question when Dee gets his rhythm he''s going to create open shots for him and do some things different," Stansbury said. "We''re just kind of in between both. Dee (has to) figure his out a little bit, which is gonna take time, and Ravern figuring out his balance with Dee back and Sid back."