January 14, 2011 9:58:00 AM
OXFORD -- So much for Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney being out of shape.
The Mississippi State duo combined to score 49 points Thursday in the Bulldogs'' 69-64 win over Ole Miss, just five days removed from an embarrassing home debut against Alabama.
Then, Sidney managed just two points and Bost struggled to reach 14 in an 18-point loss.
Both served NCAA-mandated suspensions in the fall and entered Thursday with four games played between them this season.
Fatigue and a lack of chemistry were at the root of Bost''s and Sidney''s dismal debut, but an entirely different script was written against the Rebels (12-5, 0-2 Southeastern Conference).
Bost dropped 25 points on 9 of 16 shooting and had eight assists and three steals. He scored 25 at the Tad Smith Coliseum for the second straight season.
Sidney -- the target of national scrutiny after his fight in Hawaii -- played a career-high 36 minutes and had 24 points and five boards. He was 9 of 12 from the floor.
"He controlled the flow of the game tonight, and that''s what I liked about him," MSU head coach Rick Stansbury said of Bost. "He took a lot of jump shots against Alabama, but he wasn''t searching for them tonight."
MSU (9-7, 1-1) snapped out of a funk that had seen it lose five of its last six games. The Bulldogs lost all five games by 10 points or more.
Sidney''s two suspensions in Hawaii and Elgin Bailey''s subsequent transfer hung over the program when it returned to Starkville.
The Bulldogs'' league-opening loss to Alabama could have sent the team in the tank and damaged its confidence.
"I thought we handled that loss as well as you could handle it going into practice," Stansbury said. "I thought we put it behind us and took some teaching points, but we were still upbeat. We understand who we are, what we are. We know we''re gonna get better."
Sidney scored 15 points in the second half and had a 11-minute stretch in the second where he scored 15 of MSU''s 19 points.
Bost and Sidney often worked the pick-and-roll to perfection, utilizing Sidney''s ability to cut to basket or pop out for jump shots. Once Sidney knocked down a pair of threes, Ole Miss'' defenders had difficulty defending him.
The result was Bost routinely finding his way to the basket and Sidney scoring in the post, at the free throw line and from deep.
"We saw that they can''t guard ball screens very well, so we tried to take advantage," Bost said. "Last year, I had a good game attacking the rim against them so that''s what I tried to keep doing."
Bost lauded Sidney''s performance, which saw the sophomore fight even greater fatigue through extended minutes. Sidney appeared to thrive on the boos and the heckling from fans, even saluting the Ole Miss student section after he made a shot.
Playing through emotion, and the accelerated heart rate it creates, is a major step in Sidney gaining full fitness.
"He was just going to the contact and trying to finish over the contact, hitting mid-range jumpers, knocking down threes," Bost said. "Tonight was his night.
"He''s been practicing hard lately. He just keeps pushing his self."
Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy lamented his team''s poor shooting and lack of response to Bost and Sidney.
Rebels forward Reginald Buckner was saddled with foul trouble and played only 15 minutes, giving Sidney more room to operate in the paint.
Kennedy, however, was disappointed to see his guard-heavy lineup struggle to keep Bost out of the lane off screens.
"He made us pay time and time again," Kennedy said.
The Rebels had 20 more shots than the Bulldogs, but made the same number (24), relying on the deep ball with 35 attempts.
The approach worked in the first half, when the Rebels made 8 of 20.
"It was a pathetic effort on our part," Kennedy said. "We thought that they would zone us, and they did. It bothered us and we got tentative. We had it (the lead) to seven, eight (points) in the first half and made poor decisions.
"We''re not making sound decisions with the basketball."
Ole Miss point guard Chris Warren shouldered the scoring load with 25 points in an off-target night for the Rebels.
Warren was money from beyond the arc, finishing with 7 makes on 14 attempts.
"He played great," Bost said. "Give him credit. It made me have to try and keep up with him."
The Bulldogs trailed by as many as seven in the first, and at one point had a nine-possession stretch where they missed five shots and turned the ball over four times.
As frenetic as MSU''s play was in the first half -- it turned the ball over 10 times and began the game with three straight -- it leaned on Bost''s hot hand and motor.
The junior took the Bulldogs'' performance against Alabama personally, claiming they "played without heart" in the 18-point loss.
Bost played in a higher gear early on against the Rebs, connecting on 6 of 7 shots for 16 points and had three assists in the first half. He hit a trey inside five minutes to cut the lead from 7 points to 4 and had a put-back and 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer.
Bost scored eight of MSU''s final 12 points of the first half to cut the deficit to 34-32.
The Bulldogs, who entered Thursday''s game having been held under 60 points in four of six games, suffered through another night of leading scorer Ravern Johnson''s shooting drought.
Johnson was 3 of 16 against Alabama and was 2 of 7 Thursday. He didn''t make his first bucket, a 3-pointer, until the 7:45-mark of the second half.
The Bulldogs didn''t get much offensively from Kodi Augustus, either, though the senior forward had a game-high 14 rebounds and four crucial free throws down the stretch.
Trailing 65-64, Ole Miss had a pair of opportunities to tie the game or take the lead but saw Zach Graham, Nick Williams and Warren miss jump shots in their last three possessions.
"Good teams find a way to win in a variety of ways," Kennedy said. "In big-game moments, we gotta have guys step up."
Graham finished with 13 points but was held scoreless in the second half.
MSU returns to the court Sunday against Auburn in a 2 p.m. match at Humphrey Coliseum.
1. West Virginia also enjoying fast start COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Smith enjoys banner season for MSU defense COLLEGE SPORTS
3. New Hope hopes to hammer its way past Pearl HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. Noxubee County faces surprising foe Cleveland in the playoffs HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS