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Ole Miss hoops approaching February as a second season, welcoming rival MSU Tuesday

After a disappointing start to the New Year, Ole Miss is approaching the month of February as an entirely new season.

The Rebels lost their first five games to start Southeastern Conference play. Since then, they have won three of five, including back-to-back games in February.

It’s not subtle. The message from the coaching staff has been straightforward. Conference season didn’t start how Ole Miss wanted it to, but they’re not looking backwards.

“I just want them to look ahead, look forward. We’ve talked a lot about how the schedule kind of comes in our favor,” said head coach Kermit Davis. “It’s not easy teams but at least we’ll be playing at home. We have been on the road so much. But I think they have the confidence about them and they have to back that up. We’ve won a couple of games and hopefully that’ll take shape and we’re about to play a really, really good Mississippi State team on Tuesday.”

With back-to-back, double-digit wins over South Carolina and Florida this past week, the Ole Miss home stand continues Tuesday as they welcome rival Mississippi State to Oxford. It’s not the easiest back-half of the schedule, with a 15-8 Mississippi State team that is 6-4 in Conference play, yet the teams Ole Miss has beaten recently were also teams in the top third of the conference.

However, it’s hard to not look at State, and the rivalry game, as a little different than any other conference game.

“It’s their physicality. Reggie Perry is playing maybe as good as any forward in college basketball right now,” Davis said. “They have an older team. It’s the way they rebound and the way their bodies look. They’re playing with a lot of confidence and they have gone on the road and won. They just have a really good college basketball team.”

A year ago, Ole Miss and Mississippi State split meetings. Ole Miss topped State in Starkville; the Bulldogs won in Oxford.

This year, despite an up and down season, Ole Miss has lost just four games in the Pavilion. Since falling to Auburn in double overtime at home in late January, the team hasn’t lost in The Pavilion. The next potential victim is their arch rival.

“That motto (winning February), it’s having a goal to look forward to in the future – something to work forward,” said junior guard Devontae Shuler. “Right now we’re undefeated in (our last two). So we can just keep using that as a way for us to get going at both ends of the court.”

Ole Miss will host Mississippi State on Tuesday night at 6 p.m., televised on ESPNU.