Mississippi State looks to keep pace near the top of the Southeastern Conference when it hosts in-state rival Ole Miss on Tuesday in Starkville, Miss.
The Bulldogs (9-5, 4-2 SEC) are coming off a 72-69 win over visiting Florida on Saturday. Forward Tolu Smith had a career night with 27 points, 14 rebounds and a career high-tying three blocks.
Smith earned his SEC-leading fifth double-double of the season and had the first 20-point, 10-rebound effort of his career. He also made 11 of 13 shots.
“I was playing with confidence. I was playing as hard as I can. Coach (Ben Howland) emphasized playing as hard as we can to get this win,” Smith told the Mississippi State athletics website. “This was a must-win. I just want to thank my coaches and my teammates for getting me the ball. I just appreciate them.”
Tuesday will be the first meeting of the season between the rivals. Bulldogs guard Iverson Molinar has scored in double figures in all 11 games he has played this season, leading the team in scoring at 18.4 points per game.
Smith is averaging 13.8 points and an SEC-leading nine rebounds per game.
Ole Miss (6-6, 1-4) has lost three straight games, but the Rebels have won 10 of the last 14 meetings against Mississippi State. The teams split last year, with Ole Miss winning 83-58 in the first meeting in Oxford, Miss., with host Mississippi State prevailing in the second, 69-44.
The Rebels and Bulldogs have alternated wins in the last six matchups.
Ole Miss, despite 24 points and eight assists from Devontae Shuler, lost to Georgia, 78-74, at home this past Saturday.
Hot shooting from Georgia in the second half of that game had the Rebels trying to figure out what happened defensively.
“We’re an elite defensive team against mid-major teams. A very average defensive team against Power Five teams,” Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis told the Clarion-Ledger newspaper. “We’ve got to coach it better. We’ve got to play it better.
“Their guards just got inside us. We don’t have a lot of rim protection, I thought that would improve this year. We’ve got to coach it better and we’ve got to play it better. (Seventy-four points) should be plenty for us to win at home.”
Shuler’s 14.1 points per game leads Ole Miss. The only other player who averages in double figures in points is Arizona State graduate transfer Romello White, at 11.2. Jarkel Joiner and KJ Buffen average 9.9 and 9.8 points, respectively.
–Field Level Media