Skip to content
Ole Miss, Mississippi State matchup...

Ole Miss, Mississippi State matchup lived up to its billing

By: Parrish Alford - January 31, 2024

(Photo from OleMissMBB on X)

As Mississippi’s two SEC entries met for the 269th time there were different styles leading to good results. The Rebels came out on top 86-82.

It’s so much better this way.

Sometimes one team is competent, the other less so.

Ole Miss and Mississippi State met at SJB Pavillion Tuesday, the first of their two regular season meetings. Combined they were 31-9, resumes with some shine but some stubble too.

Because coachpeak has a finite measure of expression Chris Beard and Chris Jans have both said the same thing or some variation of it. They want to playing meaningful games late in the season, and while the SEC basketball season isn’t late, it’s knocking on the door.

Ole Miss, in its first season under Beard, and Mississippi State, in its second under Jans, have won at a level that they can still make meaningful happen.

Now the Rebels have won one more.

In a game that lived up to its billing, two teams that often beat opponents with defense played until the final seconds before State’s Cameron Matthews, a 59.7 percent free throw shooter, missed twice with 4 seconds left.

Not only did he put the Rebels in position to close out an 86-82 win, he gave everybody in the building free chicken thanks to Chick-Fil-A’s rather difficult to meet standard. 

“This was one of the best environments in college basketball tonight,” said Beard, noting an Ole Miss record 10,063 fans in attendance. “ I’ve been fortunate to coach in a lot of great environments over the years, but tonight was special. We’re building something here in Year 1.”

State began the night allowing just 66 points a game, Ole Miss just 70.1.

This time State shot 53.6 percent from the floor, Ole Miss 50.1.

As Mississippi’s two SEC entries met for the 269th time there were different styles leading to good results.

The Rebels have a guard-heavy lineup, led by senior Matthew Murrell but getting 30 points a game from guys with different zip codes a year ago. One of those transfers, Jaylen Murray, hit a 30-foot 3- that iced Beard’s first SEC road win, 71-68 at Texas A&M last Saturday. He was huge in his first rivalry game.

State, with Tolu Smith, gets more offense from the post, but Ole Miss has noteworthy rim protectors.

Murray, who played last year at Saint Peter’s, had 21 against the Bulldogs, Murrell 20. Together they were 7-for-18 from 3.

Murray had 11 assists and only one turnover in 39 minutes.

“It was elite. His mind was in the right place,” Beard said.

If not for Murray, the best guard on the floor would have been MSU freshman Josh Hubbard, an Ole Miss commit under former Rebels coach Kermit Davis.

Hubbard had 16 in the first half and finished with 21. The Rebels had better success against him the second half, keeping him from his first bucket until a 3-pointer with 6 minutes, 36 seconds left.

He was 7-for-15 from the floor, 3-for-7 from the arc.

Remembering Hubbard’s almost-a-Rebels history Ole Miss fans booed him relentlessly.

“Everybody knew I was going to get booed. I felt like I reacted pretty good. I just kept my peace and stayed humble,” he said.

The game wasn’t defined by defense, but the Rebels did a number on State’s best player, 6-foot-11 Tolu Smith, who was limited to nine points on 2-for-5 shooting.

At times Smith looked like he’d never seen a double team, and he didn’t get a second-half bucket until the 8:52 mark.

“They were rotating different guys on him and changing up their coverages where they went and who they went off of. He created some closeouts, but at times he wasn’t as patient as we’d like him to be in terms of decisions he made,” Jans said.

Smith had four fouls and four turnovers.

Matthews will be remembered for two missed free throws but should also be remembered for 16 points on 8-for-11 shooting with 12 rebounds and five assists. He’s State’s high-motor guy, and he played like it.

The Rebels remain unbeaten at home, the Bulldogs, without a league road win have been more Jekyll and Hyde-ish in their home and away personalities.

They had top-10 wins against Tennessee and Auburn which left them unbeaten in SEC play at The Hump, but in SWAC play they were 0-1 with the inexplicable 60-59 loss to Southern on Dec. 3. It’s the reason their NCAA Net Ranking, with three Quadrant 1 wins, is 37 and not much better.

The Rebels, with two Quadrant 1 wins and a No. 57 ranking, would be in a much more precarious position if this was “Selection Wednesday.”

But it’s the last day of January, and a Rebels team that has improved as the calendar has rocked along has resume opportunities ahead. Tuesday night helped.

Ironically, if State didn’t have the Southern loss on its ledger this would have been a Quad 1 win for Ole Miss.

The best thing Ole Miss can do to enhance its March Madness chances is win, but State winning wouldn’t be a bad thing either. Aside from the rematch on Feb. 21 in Starkville, it wouldn’t take much for the Bulldogs to lift their Net Ranking and make this a Quad 1 win for their rival.

“We’re becoming more consistent. We’re not where we need to be, but we’re trending in the right direction. I don’t think anybody would disagree with that,” Beard said.

About the Author(s)
author profile image

Parrish Alford

Parrish Alford brings the cumulative wisdom that comes from three decades of covering Mississippi sports to Magnolia Tribune. His outstanding contributions to sports reporting in the state have twice been recognized with Sports Writer of the Year awards. Alford currently serves as the associate editor of American Family News.