Ole Miss' slump at Mississippi State continues as Bulldogs win ninth straight

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) -- Mississippi State proved defense wins games in the Southeastern Conference.

Jarvis Varnado blocked Mississippi's first shot, Charles Rhodes scored 26 points and the SEC-leading Bulldogs pushed around the Rebels (No. 15 ESPN/USA Today, No. 17 AP) in an 88-68 upset Saturday that was never really competitive.

"The only positive about the game tonight is that it only counts as one loss," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "The way they beat us it should've counted as more than one."

The Bulldogs (14-5, 5-0) have won nine straight overall and are on a 5-0 run to start the conference schedule. They held the Rebels (15-3, 2-3) 16 points below their average and sent them to their third straight road loss. Ole Miss is 2-3 after starting the season with a school-record 13 consecutive wins.

Jamont Gordon had 13 points and six assists and combined with Rhodes and Varnado to harass and mug the Rebels from Varnado's opening block to Gordon's no-look, over-the-shoulder pass that Rhodes powered home to end Ole Miss' final rally.

While Rhodes and Varnado shut down Ole Miss' frontcourt, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Gordon bullied Rebels freshman point guard Chris Warren, who is 5-10 and 188 pounds.

Gordon was unstoppable at times, putting away the Rebels midway through the second half when he had two 3-pointers, a thunderous running dunk and an assist in transition on a long bounce pass through traffic that put the Bulldogs up 13 points during a 5-minute span.

"We had no answer for Jamont," Kennedy said. "He got his shots where he wanted and when he wanted all night long. He's so strong. Chris was out of his element."

Mississippi State has won 10 straight at home in the series, dating to Feb. 21, 1998, and 23 of the last 25. The Bulldogs have won 11 of 13 and 15 of 19 overall.

Barry Stewart and Riley Benock both scored 12 points for the Bulldogs, who got 25 points from their bench.

Dwayne Curtis led Ole Miss with 18 points and 11 rebounds while Warren finished with 15 and Eniel Polynice 13.

While Ole Miss entered with the nation's No. 9 scoring average of 84.9 points per game, Mississippi State has been one of the nation's top defensive teams. The Bulldogs are second in the country in both blocks (8.7 per game) and field goal percentage defense (35.9 percent).

With Curtis and center Kenny Williams quickly in foul trouble, the Rebels found the interior of Mississippi State's defense impenetrable and finished shooting 36.8 percent.

"They were clever about going in the hole," Varnado said. "They were doing all these acrobatic moves, you know. But they still wasn't scoring. So if I didn't block the shot, I altered it and made them miss."

After allowing the Rebels a brief four-point lead early, the Bulldogs got three quick fouls on Williams and two on Curtis. Not only did that hurt the Rebels offense, but it allowed Rhodes and Varnado plenty of room to operate inside.

Varnado then scored six straight points during an 18-7 run that put Mississippi State up 32-26 with 3:39 left in the first half. Varnado, the nation's leading shot blocker with 5.2 per game, finished with four blocks, eight rebounds and 12 points.

Gordon moved into 10th place on Mississippi State's career scoring list, passing Tang Hamilton (1,307), Rich Knarr (1,305) and Timmy Bowers (1,300). He has 1,308 points and was showboating for the crowd as Mississippi State shot 69 percent in the second half.

"That's probably the most fun I've had this season," Gordon said. "That was a good game right there."