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January 31, 2009

Rebels upset State, get back-to-back wins

Terrico White scored 18 points and David Huertas added 16 as Ole Miss beat Mississippi State, 67-63, to win its second straight Southeastern Conference game. The Rebels upset No. 24 Kentucky in Oxford on Tuesday.

"Today obviously was a huge step forward as it relates to the psyche of our group," Rebel head coach Andy Kennedy said. Tuesday night's game was really about us being really efficient. We weren't nearly as efficient but we still found a way to win, which tells me this team is starting to get it."

With the win, Ole Miss improved to 12-9 on the season and 3-4 in SEC - that after many predicted that the Rebels would struggle to win more than two or three conference games following the lose of three key players - all-SEC point guard Chris Warren, Eneil Polynice, and Trevor Gaskins. The trio was declared out for the season by early December after suffering an assortment of knee injuries.

Mississippi State (14-7, 4-2) had won 10 straight in Starkville in the Southeastern Conference's most-played rivalry, but were done in by three stretches of nearly seven minutes without a field goal.

The Rebels also got 13 points from Zach Graham and Malcolm White had 11, but it may have been the defense that was the difference. The Rebels got back into a game they trailed 9-0 to start by holding the Bulldogs without a field goal for almost nine minutes in the first half.

Then after falling behind again 37-33 at halftime, Ole Miss used stretches of 8:27 and 6:56 without a field goal to pull away, but still had to fight to the final buzzer for the win.

The Rebels took the lead for good at the 14:33 mark of the second half and extended the lead to eight points (63-55) with 3:43 remaining.

"They did a really good job of defending us," State center Jarvis Varnado said. "Now we have to find way to put this behind us and get ready for the next game. You just cant underestimate any team in this league. You have to always be ready to play."

The Bulldogs opened the game by scoring the first nine points and a three-point basket by Phil Turner extended the lead to 12-2 in the opening minutes. The Bulldogs maintained that early momentum, taking the game's largest lead at 25-12 on a three-pointer by Barry Stewart with 10:32 left in the opening half.

"Guys are becoming more and more comfortable with each dribble - I wasn't concerned," Kennedy said of the slow start. "We had been in big holes before and fortunately we are pretty experienced about falling behind big early. I'm glad to see we are learning some lessons from that."

Ole Miss pieced together a solid stretch to get back into the contest. A three-point basket by Terrico White capped a 16-2 Ole Miss run and gave the Rebels their first lead, at 28-27 with 5:18 left before halftime.

The Rebels opened the game's final half on a 15-7 run and did not trail the remainder of the way.

"We had a difficult time finding an offensive rhythm in the second half," said State head coach Rick Stansbury. "Ole Miss took the lead and we could not find an answer. Give credit to them for fighting back and making plays on the road."

"We came out in the second half, played hard and that got the win," Malcom White said. "We just want to guard the three point line, they were shooting almost 50 percent from the three point line or more. We just knew we had to go out there and guard the perimeter."

For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 17 of 54 shots from the field (31.5 percent), 9 of 31 shots from 3-point range (29.0 percent) and 20 of 26 shots from the foul line (76.9 percent). The Rebels hit 24 of 58 shots (41.4 percent), 9 of 25 shots from 3-point range (36.0 percent) and 10 of 15 shots from the foul line (66.7 percent).

For the first time in league play, the Bulldogs out-rebounded an opponent, holding a 42-33 edge on the boards. State had 12 assists and 12 turnovers, while Ole Miss had eight assists and 17 turnovers.

Ravern Johnson paced the Bulldogs with 20 points - 15 coming in the opening half. Dee Bost followed with 13 points, while Barry Stewart added 10 points. Jarvis Varnado had a team-high 15 rebounds and one block. For Varnado, it was his second most rebounds in a game this season.

Ole Miss returns home on Wednesday to host Auburn.

(Editor's notes: Wire reports were used to compile this report)



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