7:00 PM ET, February 15, 2003
Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, Mississippi
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) --Mississippi State and Mississippi played an ugly close game for about 30 minutes. By the time it was over it had turned into the second thriller between the archrivals in the last 2 1/2 weeks.Mario Austin had 19 points and converted a three-point play with 52 seconds left that put Mississippi State (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 19 AP) up for good in a 68-64 overtime victory Saturday night. The Bulldogs (16-5, 6-4 Southeastern Conference) beat Ole Miss 58-57 on Jan. 29 when Derrick Zimmerman went end to end for a last second layup. Justin Reed played a great game for Ole Miss (12-10, 3-8), finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds. The junior power forward hit a 16-foot jumper with the shot clock winding down to put Ole Miss up 62-61 with just over a minute left. The Bulldogs came right back to their big man. Austin got down the floor quickly and got great position in the low post. He scored the basket, got fouled and sank the free throw to give Mississippi State a 64-62 lead with 52 seconds left. "I knew if I ran the floor Derrick would get it to me,'' Austin said. "We work all the time in that situation on getting the ball down low and making them foul us.'' Mississippi State forced turnovers on the Rebels' next two possessions. The first led to a baseline drive by Ontario Harper to give the Bulldogs some breathing room with 17 second left. Harper converted the second one, too, this time with a slam that sealed it. "I just told my team that you have to survive games like this when you're trying to compete for a championship,'' Mississippi State Rick Stansbury said. "Our kids survived without playing our best.'' David Sanders scored 16 for Ole Miss, which has lost six straight for the first time under fifth-year coach Rod Barnes. "It's been hard. We're dejected, but we can build on this,'' Reed said. "We still believe we can turn it around.'' Zimmerman had 10 points, eight assists and three steals for the Bulldogs, who swept the season series with Ole Miss for the first time since 1995. Reed made a jump hook over Austin with 1:05 left in regulation to pull the Rebels within 53-51. Reed then tied it by tapping in Aaron Harper's miss with 13 seconds left. Austin had a shot to win it with time winding down, but Reed got the block and the rebound to send it into overtime. In the OT, Austin made a diving save of a poor pass into the post that went straight to Branden Vincent for a layup to put Mississippi State up 59-57 with 2:40 left. Sanders regained the lead for Ole Miss with a 3 from the corner, then Austin swished two free throws with 1:47 left to make it 61-60 Bulldogs. Then things got a weird. Aaron Harper missed a driving layup and Sanders grabbed the rebound, but it was unclear whether the ball had touched the rim and a shot-clock violation should have been called. The officials stopped play to watch the replay, trying to determine if the ball nicked the rim. The game was delayed for about seven minutes. Ultimately, Ole Miss got the ball back with 7 seconds left on the shot clock and Reed hit another clutch shot to give Ole Miss its last lead. Mississippi State has won three straight and four of five. The Bulldogs, who started conference play 0-3, moved into a first-place tie in the SEC West with Auburn, which lost to Alabama. "If you would have told me we'd be 6-4 and in first place after we were 0-3, I'd have hugged you,'' Zimmerman said. The Bulldogs missed several opportunities to pull away in the second half by missing good looks at the basket. "We missed a lot of shots,'' said Austin, who rolled his eyes and shook his head when asked about some of the missed layups and open jumpers. "But we didn't let it affect us on defense.'' Allowed to hang around, the Rebels finally put together a spurt. Sanders dropped in another 3 to put the Rebels up 45-42 with 7:10 left and the crowd got nervously quiet. Michael Ignerski hit a jumper and Timmy Bowers a 3 to put the Bulldogs up 47-45 and get the crowd back into it, but John Gunn's baseline jumper tied with 5:37 left. It stayed close the rest of the way, but again Mississippi State made a couple more plays than Ole Miss in the end. "Somebody had to lose -- we happened to be that team,'' Sanders said.