GAME 18: #15/17 Ole Miss (15-2, 2-2) at Mississippi State (13-5, 4-0)
January 26, 2008 4 p.m. CT
Starkville, Miss. Humphrey Coliseum (10,500)
Live TV: FSN South (Rich Waltz, play-by-play; Eddie Fogler, analyst)
Pay-per-view TV: ESPN Full Court
Live Radio: Ole Miss Radio Network (David Kellum, play-by-play; Pete Cordelli, color analyst). Listen Online
XM Radio: Channel 231 (Ole Miss feed), Channel 199 (Miss. State feed)
SEC WEST’S TOP TWO TEAMS MEET SATURDAY
Ole Miss and Mississippi State play twice a year for Magnolia State bragging rights, but Saturday’s contest holds even greater significance as the Bulldogs top the SEC Western Division standings at 4-0 and the 15th-ranked Rebels are in second place with a 2-2 league mark. Ole Miss is looking to bounce back from an 80-77 loss at Auburn last Saturday, while State is trying to extend its eight-game winning streak. Chris Warren led the Rebels at Auburn with a career-high 25 points and an Ole Miss freshman record-tying seven three-pointers, while Dwayne Curtis posted his eighth double-double with 13 points and 11 boards. Ole Miss and State have split the season series each of the past two years, with the home team winning all four times.
SCOUTING THE BULLDOGS
After starting the season 5-5, Mississippi State has reeled off eight straight victories and started 4-0 in Southeastern Conference play to own the top spot in the Western Division standings entering the weekend. The Bulldogs have claimed road victories at LSU (61-39) and Alabama (66-56) to go with home wins over Georgia (60-49) and Kentucky (69-64). The Bulldogs are carried by a staunch defense that allow’s an SEC-low 60.9 points per game to opponents. They hold foes to a .359 field-goal percentage, also the best mark in the league. Sophomore center Jarvis Varnado tops the SEC and the nation with 5.17 blocks per game and had a pair of 10-block performances vs. Georgia and Kentucky. Varnado also ranks second in the league with 8.7 rebounds per game. Junior guard/forward Jamont Gordon does it all for the Bulldog offense, with team-high averages of 17.8 points and 4.3 assists to go with 6.6 rebounds.
OLE MISS-STATE SERIES
Saturday’s game will the 236th meeting between the two schools, with the Bulldogs holding an all-time series lead of 132-103 in the SEC’s most-played rivalry. The teams have split the season series each of the last two years, with each winning on its home court. State claimed a 77-67 win last year in Starkville before Ole Miss prevailed 85-73 in Oxford behind Bam Doyne’s 23 points and Clarence Sanders’ 22 (see page 7). MSU enjoys an 87-23 series advantage in games played in Starkville, and have taken nine straight over the Rebels in Humphrey Coliseum. The last time Ole Miss posted a win in Starkville was an 82-78 victory on Feb. 21, 1998.
BULLDOG COACHING TIES
Ole Miss assistant coach Owen Miller will be countering a familiar program on Saturday. Miller served the same position at Mississippi State from 1994-95 until 1996-97. In his first coaching experience, he helped Richard Williams’ Bulldogs to an NCAA Sweet 16 appearance in 1995 and a Final Four trip the following year. MSU won the SEC West crown twice in his tenure and captured the league tournament title in 1996.
BEST START SINCE 1936-37
At 15-2, Ole Miss is off to its best start since the 1936-37 squad piled up 15 wins in its first 17 games as well. A win at Mississippi State would equal the school-record start of 16-2 through 18 games, set by the 1925-26 team and tied by the 36-’37 squad. The 25-’26 team (which averaged 40.6 points per game) started 16-1 before losing its final game of the year to North Carolina in the Southern Conference Tournament to finish at 16-2.
REBELS DEFENDING SEC WEST TITLE
Ole Miss sits in second place in the SEC West with a 2-2 record early into league play. With the thrilling victory over Auburn in the 2007 regular season finale, Ole Miss earned the program’s fourth SEC Western Division championship and first since 2001. Ole Miss was picked by the media to finish last in the division again this year, just like last year and 2001. Ole Miss captured consecutive division crowns in 1997 and 1998. The Rebels’ four SEC West titles in the last 11 years is the most of any division rival over that span.
At No. 7 in the latest CBS Sportsline.com simulated RPI (ratings percentage index) rankings, Ole Miss is doing pretty well for a team that was predicted to finish as low as No. 143 in the nation by one preseason publication. The Rebels range from 7th to 13th in various simulated RPI polls this week.
REBELS NEAR TOP OF NATION IN SCORING
Ole Miss ranks second in the SEC and eighth nationally in scoring with 84.9 points per game. The Rebels also rank third in the SEC and 30th in the country with a +12.9 scoring margin. The Rebels have scored 80+ points in 11 of their first 17 contests, including three of their last five. Ole Miss is on pace to rack up the second-highest scoring average in school history behind the 1970-71 team’s 90.8 ppg and in front of the 1974-75 squad’s 81.6 average.
Ole Miss topped 100 points for the second time this year with a 102-76 victory over Troy on Nov. 27. It is the first time Ole Miss has topped the century mark twice in a season since the 1998-99 campaign. The 108 points in the Nov. 16 win over Lamar were the most in a game since Ole Miss beat Prairie View A&M 111-50 on Dec. 29, 1998.
BANGING THE BOARDS
With a pair of senior big men leading the way, Ole Miss has established itself as one of the top rebounding teams in the nation. The Rebels top the SEC and rank sixth nationally with 42.5 rebounds per game, while also boasting the SEC’s top rebounding margin at +7.1. Ole Miss also leads the league with 16.0 offensive boards per game and has been out-rebounded just once all year.
On the individual level, senior center Dwayne Curtis is averaging a team-high 8.6 boards per game, good for third in the conference. The Chicago native ranks first in the SEC and eighth in the nation with 4.0 offensive boards per game and is second in the league with eight double-doubles, including four in the last five games. He has notched 24 double-doubles in his Rebel career.
Kenny Williams grabs 8.1 boards per contest, good for fifth in the league. The senior forward from Miami has posted four double-doubles this season, including 10 points and 12 rebounds against LSU.
REBELS, BULLDOGS PULL DOWN REBOUNDS
Both of the Magnolia State’s SEC teams rank among the nation’s elite rebounders entering Saturday’s contest. Ole Miss ranks sixth in the nation with 42.5 boards per game, while MSU is ninth at 41.9. The top two rebounding teams in the SEC have been out-rebounded by foes a combined four times.
OLE MISS RANKED AFTER 7-YEAR DROUGHT
Ole Miss is ranked for the fifth straight week, this week at No. 15 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll and No. 17 in the Associated Press poll. Ole Miss is one of three SEC teams ranked this week, including No. 3/5 Tennessee and No. 13/14 Vanderbilt. Ole Miss had been receiving votes for three weeks prior to their first ranking.
Prior to this season, the Rebels were last ranked in the final polls of 2000-01, when they appeared as high as No. 9 in the ESPN/USA Today rankings following their NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearance.
LIFE IS GOOD AT HOME, TOUGH ON ROAD
Ole Miss owns a perfect 9-0 mark in Oxford this year and 5-0 record in neutral sites, but the Rebels are just 1-2 on opponents’ home courts with a win at UCF and league losses at No. 8 Tennessee and Auburn. In Andy Kennedy’s two years at the helm, Ole Miss is 25-1 at Tad Smith Coliseum, but have fallen on hard times in true road games with a 3-13 mark. In league play, Ole Miss is 9-1 at home and 1-9 on the road in the past two years.
OLE MISS GETS BY DEFENDING CHAMPS
The Rebels put another notch in their ever-growing NCAA Tournament rsum with an 89-87 win over two-time defending national champion Florida Wednesday night. It was the Rebels’ first win over Florida since 2002 after failing the last six tries. It took a gritty battle to tough out the two-point win as the Gators made several second-half runs and Ole Miss had a hard time from the charity stripe, hitting just 7-of-13 free throws in the final 2:17. Freshman Trevor Gaskins knocked down several key shots in the second half en route to his 19 points, while senior center Dwayne Curtis was steady as ever with game highs of 20 points (8-of-9 FGs) and 12 rebounds.
SCHOOL-RECORD 13-0 START SNAPPED
An 85-83 loss at No. 8 Tennessee snapped Ole Miss’ school-record start at 13-0. That mark surpassed the 1936-37 and 2000-01 teams that reeled off 11 straight wins to open their seasons. Ole Miss was one of six unbeaten teams left in the nation at the time of the loss.
SCHOOL-RECORD WIN STREAK ENDS
The Tennessee loss also snapped the school-record win streak of 13. The Rebels’ 86-50 win over Alabama A&M broke the school record for most consecutive wins, topping the previous record of 12 straight wins put up by the 1926 Rebel squad, 82 years ealier. The streak is tied for the seventh-longest in the nation this year.
Ole Miss is a perfect 13-0 against non-conference opponents this season, with just one non-league matchup remaining, vs. Presbyterian on Feb. 11. The only Rebel squad to ever go undefeated in its regular-season non-conference schedule is the 1948-49 team that was 4-0 outside of league play en route to an 8-13 overall record.
REBELS NEARLY KNOCK OFF NO. 8 VOLS
Ole Miss led by four points with 2:22 left in its SEC opener at No. 8 Tennessee, but the Vols scored the game’s final six points, including Tyler Smith’s game-winning layup with 4.2 seconds left, to hand the Rebels their first loss of the season. An Ole Miss win would have been the first over a top-10 team since an 84-56 win over No. 6 Alabama on March 3, 2002 in Oxford. The last Rebel victory over a top 10 foe on the road came in Lexington on Feb. 14, 1998, when the No. 18 Rebels upended No. 7 Kentucky 73-64.
LEADING THE SEC
Ole Miss ranks at or near the top of the conference in several statistical categories. The Rebels own the league’s top mark in rebounds (42.5/game), rebounding margin (+7.1) and offensive rebounds (16.0/game), while ranking second in scoring offense (84.9 ppg) and defensive rebounds (26.5/game). They also sit in third in turnover margin, scoring margin, 3-pointers made and assist/turnover ratio. Individually, Dwayne Curtis tops the conference with a .687 field-goal percentage and 4.0 offensive rebounds per game, while posting the third-most rebounds per game at 8.6. Chris Warren ranks second with 5.29 assists per game and 3.0 three-pointers per contest.
REBELS ON THE TUBE
Ole Miss’ game at Mississippi State televised by FSN South will be the seventh TV appearance this year and the fifth of five straight after seeing a school-record 22 games televised a year ago. Ole Miss is slated to play at least 14 games on TV this year, which will mark the 10th straight season that the Rebels played 10 or more TV games.
HE CAN'T MISS (MUCH)
In addition to providing senior leadership for the nationally ranked Rebels, center Dwayne Curtis has produced an outstanding senior season stats-wise thus far. Curtis ranks second on the team and 14th in the SEC with 15.1 ppg and ranks third in the SEC with 8.6 rebounds per game and first with 4.0 offensive boards per contest. The Chicago native leads the league and ranks second in the nation in field-goal percentage, hitting shots at a 68.7 percent clip. Curtis has shot 80 percent or better from the field in eight games, including 4-of-5 vs. MVSU, 3-of-3 vs. South Alabama, 8-of-9 vs. Lamar, 8-of-10 vs. New Mexico, 10-of-12 vs. Winthrop, 5-of-6 vs. Alabama A&M, 5-of-6 vs. LSU and 8-of-9 vs. Florida.
Curtis has posted double-figure points in all but one game (8 vs. Lousiana-Monroe) and grabbed 10 or more rebounds in eight contests. His eight double-doubles rank second in the SEC behind Alabama forward Richard Hendrix’s 10.
FABULOUS FRESHMAN FLOOR GENERAL
Freshman point guard Chris Warren has been a tremendous addition to the Rebels this season after the departure of All-SEC floor general Todd Abernethy. The rookie leads Ole Miss in scoring (15.9 ppg), assists (5.29/game), three-pointers (3.0/game) and minutes played (30.1/game). He ranks second in the SEC and 45th in the nation in assists, while draining the second-most three’s per game in the league, good for 40th in the country. He ranks 12th in the league in scoring, sixth with a 1.88 assist-turnover ratio and seventh with a 37.2 three-point percentage.
The Orlando native has scored in double figures in all but one game (8 vs. Florida). He has dished out 5 or more assists in 10-of-17 contests. Warren poured in a career-high 25 points at Auburn and tied Trevor Gaskins’ Ole Miss freshman record with seven treys. He is averaging 17.8 ppg over the last eight contests. He has already earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors twice and was named the MVP of the San Juan Shootout.
SHARING THE LOAD
Ole Miss has displayed a variety of ways from up and down its roster to amass 84.9 points per game through 17 contests. Six different Rebels currently average eight or more points, and eight Rebels average in double-figure minutes. The Rebels have seen five different players lead the team in scoring among the 17 contests. They aren’t afraid to dish out a pass, ranking fourth in the SEC and 19th in the nation with 17.5 assists per game.
WINNING THE TURNOVER BATTLE
When running an up-tempo style of offense, much of the success is determined by how many turnovers the defense can create and how few turnovers the offense commits. Ole Miss has done an outstanding job in both facets through 17 games, as the Rebels rank fourth in the SEC with 15.8 turnovers forced, fourth with 12.9 turnovers committed and third with a +2.88 turnover ratio. Ole Miss also boasts the league’s third-best assist-turnover ratio at 1.36 (297 A, 219 TO).
Overall, Ole Miss has forced 20 or more turnovers four times and committed 10 or less on five occasions. The Rebels have lost the turnover battle just five times this season. They had a feast with Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 24, creating 31 Warhawk turnovers and giving up the ball just eight times.
POLYNICE FILLING IT UP
Sophomore guard Eniel Polynice has put up big numbers in several columns of the stat sheet this season. He ranks 26th in the SEC with 12.6 points per game and also ranks among the league leaders in rebounds (19th at 5.5/game) assists (9th at 4.0/ game), steals (8th at 1.8/game) and field-goal percentage (11th at .455).
Polynice recently poured in 20 points, grabbed eight boards and dished out four assists at No. 8 Tennessee. He had an outstanding game against Southern Miss with a near triple-double of 14 points, a career-high 13 rebounds and a career-high nine assists. He also shattered several career highs with his stellar performance in the Nov. 13 win over South Alabama, including career bests of 28 points and seven 3-pointers.
GASKINS MAKES SPLASH AS ROOKIE
One of several freshmen and newcomers contributing for the Rebels this year, guard Trevor Gaskins has made a big impact with his ability to hit from long range. The Alpharetta, Ga., native ranks 12th in the league with 1.94 three’s made per game.
Gaskins loomed large in the Rebels’ 89-87 win over Florida with 19 points on 6-of-9 from the field and 3-of-5 from behind the arc, including several big shots to halt Gator runs in the second half. He got off to a furious start to his Ole Miss career in the season opener. He finished one 3-pointer shy of the school record with seven treys on 10 attempts, but did collect the freshman record previously held by Josh Hayes, who stroked six three’s against Troy State on Dec. 18, 2000 and Joe Harvell, who had six vs. Kentucky on Jan. 27, 1990. The Ole Miss record of eight was set by Keith Carter against Prairie View on Dec. 29, 1998.
OTHER PLAYER POINTS
Zach Graham: An “explosive scorer” according to Kennedy, the rookie from Suwanee, Ga., has proved that true by averaging 6.1 points in 11.9 minutes per game. Had his best game of the season with 12 points and 7 rebounds at Auburn, logging a season-high 21 minutes. Posted double figure points in back-to-back games vs. Lamar (12) and Louisiana-Monroe (13). Poured in all nine of his points at UCF in the first half. Scored eight points with four free-throws vs. USM. Posted six points and six boards vs. Alabama A&M.
David Huertas: The Puerto Rican has hit at least one three-pointer in nine of the last 10 games. He tied a career high when he poured in a game-high 17 points against Alabama A&M. Nailed a career-high five 3-pointers vs. the Bulldogs. Scored 14 points and grabbed 5 rebounds vs. La Salle and Clemson. Had 12 points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals against Southern Miss. The long-range threat made back-to-back 3-pointers in the second half to close a 7-point deficit to just one in the win over Winthrop. He also scored 17 points vs. ULM.
Jermey Parnell: Has missed two of the last three games with a high ankle sprain. Injured his ankle in the second half at Tennessee and returned to play limited minutes vs. Florida. He remains day-to-day. Started the first three games of the season and came off the bench for the next nine before starting the next two. In just seven minutes of action at No. 8 Tennessee, made three big blocks to tie a career high. Also posted three blocked shots in a season-high 22 minutes against La Salle. Season-high 12 points on 6-of-7 from the field vs. Troy.
Brian Smith: Senior point guard is averaging 9.4 minutes per game in a reserve role behind Chris Warren. DNP at Auburn for the first time this season. Tied a career high with three steals vs. Alabama A&M. Made two big three-pointers to help extend a Rebel lead in the win over Southern Miss. Season-high 17 minutes and three assists vs. South Alabama.
Terrence Watson: A very long, athletic forward, Watson has 10 blocks in limited action in 11 games. Has not seen action in league play. The JC transfer earned the starting nod and logged a season-high 19 minutes vs. Lamar. Swatted four shots against Louisiana-Monroe.
Malcolm White: Sensational freshman leaper saw first significant action filling in for Parnell vs. LSU. Scored a season-high 12 points with 6 rebounds in 21 minutes vs. the Tigers. Made 4-of-5 from the field and 4-of-4 free throws in the game. Swatted a career-high three shots against Florida. Saw his previous most action with 14 minutes vs. Troy and put up 6 points and 6 rebounds. Had two huge dunks in that game. Has scored 12 of his 40 points this season on dunks.
PACKING THE PAD
Over the last decade, the "Tad Pad" proved to be one of the toughest arenas in the nation for opposing teams to play, and second-year head coach Andy Kennedy has only added to that success. Ole Miss owns a 25-1 record at Tad Smith Coliseum since Kennedy took the reins last season. The Oxford crowds have jumped on board, too. Saturday’s game against LSU saw the Tad Pad’s second-highest attendance ever with 9,328 fans and the Florida game crowd of 9,304 ranks sxith in arena annals.
Last year’s 16-1 mark established an arena record for single-season wins. Kennedy’s club inspired a huge homecourt advantage during SEC play, averaging 8,241 fans and drawing a record crowd of 9,452 for the victory over No. 18 Alabama.
Ole Miss has won 156 of its last 189 games (.825 winning percentage) in Oxford dating back to the 1995-96 campaign. The Rebels have an all-time record of 391-180 (.685 winning percentage) at Tad Smith Coliseum, which opened in 1965-66.
WARREN GRABS 2ND SEC FRESHMAN HONOR
For the second time this season, Rebel point guard Chris Warren was named the SEC Freshman of the Week, as announced by the league office on Dec. 24. The 5-foot-10 guard received San Juan Shootout MVP distinction after scoring 41 of his 49 points in the second half of the three Rebel wins in Puerto Rico. He poured in 19 points against both La Salle and Clemson, while adding nine assists and just two turnovers against the Explorers. In Saturday's 85-82 win over previously unbeaten No. 15 Clemson, Warren tallied eight of the Rebels' 10 points in the final four minutes to claim the tournament title.
CURTIS TABBED NATIONAL PLAYER OF WEEK
After garnering SEC Player of the Week accolades on Dec. 17, senior center Dwayne Curtis was honored as National Player of the Week on Dec. 24 by CollegeHoops.net. Curtis poured in 19 points and had nine rebounds in the final against No. 15 Clemson, and he put up 21 points and seven boards against DePaul and 14 and five against La Salle. Curtis shot 61 percent from the field and 88 percent from the free-throw line in the three games.
REBELS CLAIM SAN JUAN SHOOTOUT TITLE
With wins over DePaul, La Salle and No. 15 Clemson, Ole Miss claimed the 2007 San Juan Shootout title. The championship game vs. the previously unbeaten Tigers saw Ole Miss earn a victory over its first ranked foe of the season and move to 11-0. Freshman point guard Chris Warren was named the Tournament MVP with 19 points in each of the last two games. Senior center Dwayne Curtis also earned a spot on the All-Tournament team after averaging a team-high 18.0 points over three games.