But in a surprising twist to an old rivalry, the 6-foot-8 junior scored a career-high 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to help Mississippi upset Mississippi State (No. 15 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) 75-68 on Wednesday night at Tad Smith Coliseum.
"He was tremendous," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "Obviously the difference in the game."
Buckner is rarely a factor on offense, but scored with regularity against the Bulldogs, shooting 8 of 10 from the field as the Rebels shot 50 percent (27 of 54) as a team.
Sidney and Moultrie have formed a dynamic frontcourt for most of the season, but Buckner nearly beat the pair by himself, adding three blocked shots to his out-of-character offensive totals.
"We made a statement and we're back in the race," Buckner said. "The good start was the key. We beat a really good team tonight."
Buckner has always been a little robotic on the offensive end, which is the main reason he averages just 5.9 points.
That's why it was so surprising to see him scoring in bunches against the Bulldogs -- not only on put-back dunks but also an array of short jumpers that aren't usually in his repertoire.
Ole Miss' Demarco Cox also helped the Rebels with arguably the best game of his career. The 6-foot-8 sophomore scored seven points and grabbed seven rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench, filling in admirably for starter Murphy Holloway, who was stuck in foul trouble for much of the game and finished with five points and seven rebounds.
It was a much-needed win for the Rebels, who lost in double overtime to Auburn on Saturday.
"This was important on a number of fronts," Kennedy said. "But the most being, if you have any chance at remaining competitive in this league, you've got to defend your home floor."
Ole Miss never trailed in the second half. Mississippi State managed to cut the lead to 63-60 with 2:21 remaining on Sidney's layup, but could get no closer.
"We just never got over the hump, we were playing uphill all the way," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "We were within three with two minutes to go and had four or five empty possessions. Last year, they attempted five free throws -- this year it was 30."
Stansbury has been dominant against his in-state rival for more than a decade, winning 20 of 27. But the Rebels set the tempo from the outset, and the Bulldogs never seemed comfortable. They shot 23 of 61 (37.7 percent) from the field.
Ole Miss jumped out to a 10-3 lead in the opening minutes, riding a pair of 3-pointers by Summers. Mississippi State fought back to briefly take the lead, but the Rebels pushed right back for a 38-33 halftime lead because of the superior post play.
Buckner had 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting and also grabbed six rebounds in the first half, negating the loss Holloway, who earned two fouls in the opening minutes.
Ole Miss won despite shooting just 17 of 30 (56.7 percent) from the free-throw line.
Mississippi State's Dee Bost scored 15 points, but was 4 of 15 from the field. The shorter Bost was hounded by 6-foot-9 Terrance Henry on the perimeter for much of the game, forcing the Bulldogs' point guard into some tough shots.
Henry also added 12 points, three rebounds and three assists.
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Maryland point guard Melo Trimble, considered a lock to leave the program before struggling in the second half last season, has withdrawn from the NBA draft and will return for his junior season.
Louisville's Chinanu Onuaku, who recently underwent a medical procedure to correct a heart rhythm issue detected during the combine, will keep his name in the NBA draft pool.
Andrew White III will return to the Nebraska men's basketball team next season after removing his name from the NBA draft.