Yes. The Bulldogs were using round-one as motivation for the rematch. "I was real motivated," said senior Dee Bost before his likely last round with the Rebels. "A must-win game, and everybody else was motivated." Few more than Moultrie, who despite good numbers in Oxford left frustrated.
Really, really frustrated. So, "It was personal," Moultrie said. "But I like the intensity of a rivalry, that gets me going."
Did it ever. The junior power forward was on his best effort and just about best efficiency this night, bagging a game-best 18 points on 9-of-14 shooting with nine rebounds. All Moultrie could find frustrating this time was coming up just short of another double-double. "Yeah, that hurts! I need to turn it up a notch."
Sidney also turned up his own game, with 14 points on 6-of-9 accuracy with a three-pointer to boot. He hit the boards successfully seven times too in an unstoppable tag-team. Count Rebel Coach Andy Kennedy impressed. "I think Arnett is a legitimate candidate for SEC Player of the Year. Then you've got Renardo who if you allow him to catch it where we allowed him to catch it…"
‘Allowed' being not entirely accurate, though Moultrie did find himself in frequent isolation around the goal. Three times he converted a lob pass into a stiff stuff, while others he just beat his man off a decisive first step. "Tonight is probably the most I've been open all year," he said.
"They should have started boxing me out but they didn't. I kept pointing my finger up for the lob. But I was using my quickness and athleticism to get around the defender." In the process Moultrie broke 1,000 career points, counting his two years at UTEP.
The frontcourt pair had good stats against Ole Miss the first time, so Coach Rick Stansbury naturally wanted a little more this second time around. And got it. "We wanted to mix it up a little bit and make them guards some screening action," he said of how State attacked the Rebel big men. "I thought Sid's overall game this was his most complete from an effort standpoint."
But somebody had to get the ball to both big Dogs in those scoring positions. Cue Bost, whose 13 assists not only were a career high but most by anyone in the SEC so far this season. Not that Ole Miss could safely sag back and cover those postmen, either, because Bost nailed three treys in six tries and scored 15 points for a double-double of his own. That pushed him into 10th place on the all-time scoring list.
The big outputs were sweet for the senior, after he was frustrated by Ole Miss in Oxford into rushing shots and passes alike. Bost had brought some of that on himself last month too with a public twitter taunt. This time he let play speak for him in a louder way.
"He kept his emotions between the lines," Stansbury said. "He was just ready to play. And we did a couple of things to help him." Such as those screens for Moultrie and Sidney to make open ground. Or, swinging Rodney Hood and Jalen Steele into the wings for good open looks. They cashed in five three-point buckets with 10 and nine points respectively. State made nine treys, or as many as Ole Miss tried with just three going good.
That wasn't a surprise as the Rebels rank among the poorest perimeter offenses in the league. They had won round-one by getting lanky forwards Reginald Buckner and Terrance Henry to the goal for short shots or even shorter putbacks. Buckner did manage 15 points and nine rebounds in the rematch but never threatened to take charge. Henry had to settle for six points on 2-of-9 shooting.
This forced big guards Jarvis Summers (12) and Jelan Kendrick (11) to try picking up the slack, and those points weren't nearly enough. Not with starting guard Nick Williams going 0-of-6. Kennedy said his side had to win the rebound battle, hold State in the 40% range, and score as available to win. "Offensively we had some moments. In the other two areas we failed miserably."
State showed its gameplan immediately and effectively with six fast points from Sidney and Moultrie. As soon as the Rebels covered the baseline it left Hood free for consecutive treys and a 16-4 lead. The Bulldogs even maintained a healthy margin through a couple rounds of substitutions thanks to Steele picking up the perimeter pace.
Not until inside two minutes could the Rebels make a long shot (Summers), which was more than trumped by Bost and Steele. Moultrie threw it down twice before halftime for a 40-27 count.
"Hood got us going early," said Stansbury. "I thought Dee did a good job all night controlling the flow. They switched off and we flattened-out and he attacked that guy a bunch, whether he got the baskets or not."
A pair of three-point trips inflated the lead to 18 before everyone had returned to their seats. Even a third foul on Sidney did no good in the long run. When backup post Wendell Lewis got his own third foul, Sidney returned to hook in consecutive baskets. Moultrie was more direct with back-to-back power moves for a 58-40 difference. The Rebels could draw no closer than ten the rest of the way, and never with the ball.
"We shared the ball and shot it very well," Stansbury said. Defensively we had our edge." Especially after the Rebels missed because only once in the first half could they get a second-chance bucket, the sort of play that had given them the edge last month. Ole Miss was instead forced into taking a lot of shots they would rather not have, by shooters out of comfortable positions. It showed.
"I thought defensively we did a great job helping each other," Stansbury said. "For the most part I didn't think they ever got in a rhythm against us."
"We've got to come out and play like this every game," Bost said. "We have to take this and move forward." Bost might have added that after drawing the 12th-largest crowd in Humphrey Coliseum history, 10,364, those fans need to repeat their own efforts and turn up for Saturday's 12:30 match with Georgia to conclude a three-game homestand.
"We have to get ready for a quick turnaround," Stansbury said.
Watching from the MSU bench was freshman guard Deville Smith, excused the last two weeks for illness. Smith had practiced with the team this week and was dressed out but Stansbury said it was not in the gameplan to bring him back this early. "It's just getting him back in the flow," the coach said, adding that with a short-handed team "He's one guy that would have fresh legs!"