For the first time in his brief yet turbulent college career, Renardo Sidney showed why Mississippi State seems to believe he's worth all the trouble.
The 6-foot-10 big man led struggling Mississippi State to a 69-64 win over rival Ole Miss to restore some hope that the Bulldogs may yet emerge from a stretch of five losses in six games to regain relevance this season. Sidney erupted for 24 points on 9 of 12 shooting and did not visibly tire in the second half, easily his best performance in the four games he's played for the Bulldogs.
The pressure on Sidney to both produce and behave the rest of the season is enormous because many don't believe he should still be on the team. Despite a highly publicized brawl with teammate Elgin Bailey in the stands of a tournament in Honolulu last month, Sidney served only a two-game suspension whereas the lesser-talented Bailey left the program.
Sidney's success against Ole Miss had less to do with his back-to-the-basket game than his ability to run the pick and roll with point guard Dee Bost.
Time and time again, Bost found Sidney cutting to the rim or popping out for a perimeter jump shot. And if the defense paid too much attention to Sidney, Bost made them pay himself, contributing a team-high 25 points of his own.
Of course, it wouldn't be Renardo Sidney if there weren't some immaturity to tarnish a night when he showcased his potential. Brad Locke of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported that Sidney discreetly flipped off the Ole Miss student section late in the first half as fans taunted him for his previous troubles this season.
Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury told reporters at his news conference that he thought Sidney "controlled his emotions really well." Asked privately by Locke about Sidney's obscene gesture to the fans, Stansbury told the reporter, "If you saw it, you handle it. I didn't see it, so hey. I've seen enough, OK?"
Such a flippant comment will only fuel concerns that Stansbury is enabling Sidney by not disciplining him properly, but at this point the coach is stuck with his talented but troubled star.
There will be nights like this one when Sidney leads Mississippi State to marquee victories. But will those performances offset his lack of maturity or questionable work ethic? It still seems doubtful at this point.