STARKVILLE — Mississippi State”s men”s basketball team snapped a two-game losing skid and picked up the season sweep against the University of Mississippi with a 71-58 win Saturday.
MSU sophomore forward Renardo Sidney finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds for his third double-double in the past five games. He scored 24 against Ole Miss on Jan. 13.
Ravern Johnson, in his third game back from a two-game suspension, came off the bench and scored 16 points.
Sidney and Johnson made 13 of 20 shots from the field.
MSU (14-12, 6-6 Southeastern Conference) moved a game up on Ole Miss and Arkansas, which lost to SEC Western Division leader Alabama, for second place in the division.
The win was the Bulldogs” fifth straight against the Rebels, and second straight season sweep.
“I thought we stepped up and played,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said, “and everybody that played added to (the game).”
Ole Miss (17-10, 5-7) finished 23 of 67 from the field, including 4 of 24 from the 3-point arc. Guards Zach Graham and Chris Warren combined to go 8 of 28 from the field, and managed just five assists.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy has bemoaned his team”s lack of response to opponents limiting Warren in recent weeks. On Saturday, it was more of the same for the Rebels, who had won four of their past five games.
“Chris was trying to do what we”ve challenged him to do, and that”s make plays,” Kennedy said. “We were trying to set some ball screen action to get us into our action, and we settled for too many shots. Sometimes when you search for offense, offense isn”t there. We didn”t have anybody step up and make open-gap shots.”
For the Bulldogs, Sidney”s production was a welcome sight. The sophomore forward has been the target of criticism from the national media for his lack of conditioning and attitude.
ESPN commentator Jimmy Dykes was the latest to rail on Sidney on Tuesday in MSU”s loss at Kentucky.
Point guard Dee Bost said Sidney has turned the criticism into motivation and hasn”t let it affect his game.
“You can”t just let it pass by you,” Bost said. “He hears it, and he knows but it doesn”t really bother him. He just has to get better and keep working.”
Sidney hasn”t been made available to the media since MSU returned from a five-game road trip that was marred by his fight with former teammate Elgin Bailey in the stands in between games at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii. Stansbury cleared him to give an interview to the SEC Network, which covered the game.
“Dee Bost did a good job of finding me in the open court. It”s all about conditioning,” Sidney said. “I”m working on trying to get in better condition.”
The referees opted to let both sides play physical basketball up front, which was good news for foul-prone big men Sidney and Ole Miss” Reginald Buckner. Sidney didn”t record a foul in the first half, while Buckner picked up just one.
It was Sidney, however, who had the greater impact. The Bulldogs didn”t trail in the second half, and used a 15-2 run to take a 54-41 lead in the second half.
Nursing a 12-point lead with less than 10 minutes to play, Sidney had a pair of plays that typified the improvement he has made and the determination teammates say is fueling him. He hit a transition layup off an assist from Bost and later pushed the game to 63-50 with a similar hustle play.
Sidney scored 10 of MSU”s final 15 points
“I thought there were a couple of times he pushed through that gate of fatigue,” Stansbury said. “Today, I thought he took another step in the right direction doing some things. He”s making some progress.
“I know he”s taken a pretty good beating (from national media), but that”s OK. Go in between those lines and change them (opinions). That”s what you”re in control of.”
Johnson has hit 10 of his last 17 shots in the past two games, and is 6 of 10 from 3-point range. His 12 free throws in the past two games also are a positive sign for the Bulldogs, who were without him for two games after he had a Twitter post critical of team coaches.
MSU”s other target of scrutiny was playing more than 34 minutes per game, though he has adjusted well to his role off the bench, guard Riley Benock said.
“I think he”s just a little bit more motivated,” Benock said. “He”s not worried about maybe getting his shots and stuff, it”s about what he can do to help the team. That”s not saying he was bad at that at first, but I think it kind of gave him a different mind-set and grasp on things.”
Bost was largely ineffective Saturday, at least in terms of scoring, finishing with five points. His nine assists were a season-high. The Bulldogs had 21 assists and 10 turnovers.
Bost strained his right hamstring prior to the start of the game against Kentucky and struggled to find his shot Saturday. He didn”t practice following the Kentucky game.
Bost played 31 minutes, tying his season-low set against Auburn on Jan. 16. He and Benock, who had seven assists, didn”t record a turnover.
MSU will play host to LSU on Wednesday, while Ole Miss will play Tuesday at South Carolina.