The senior forward whose been trying to get to the NCAA Tournament through two stints as a Rebel gave one of his best performances perhaps ever as Ole Miss got past tenth-ranked Missouri 64-49 with relative ease.
Relative being a bit misleading. It wasn’t easy. The Rebels, led by the Irmo, S.C., native, played with an effort and intensity a team that can contend and get to the NCAA Tournament must have.
Don’t forget, this Ole Miss team has to face Missouri again, and it’s a good bet the Tigers will remember their first road trip as a member of the Southeastern Conference. The Rebels made sure of that, too.
A raucous crowd at Tad Smith Coliseum announced at 9,173 was in it from start to finish, mainly because the Rebels gave them something to cheer about all night long.
“The hard work you put in in the offseason lets you know that the coaches weren’t just talking when they were saying this is going to help you win or that’s going to help you win. It’s actually paying off,” Holloway said after the Rebels moved to 2-0 in the Southeastern Conference, also with a 92-74 win at Tennessee Wednesday.
They’re also 13-2 overall and all of a sudden have something on their resume’ to get some folks talking nationally.
It might be a stretch to say this team starts and ends with Holloway. But nobody is more valuable, and his 22 points and eight rebounds to help the Rebels’ cause against the Tigers was more proof.
There were some positive other stats, like 8 of 12 shooting, 6 of 10 from the free throw line, an assist, a block, and four steals.
When Holloway came in as a freshman, he was billed as a future star. He stayed two seasons, but left to go back home and sat out a year with South Carolina. But he returned as a junior last season and made a difference. This year, along with fellow seniors Reginald Buckner and Nick Williams, Holloway is lifting this team even higher.
“He’s an all-league player, and we were getting those big, broad shoulders to that left hand,” said UM head coach Andy Kennedy. “And he’s a man. If the season ended today, he would be the league MVP.”
Holloway indeed goes left when he drives for the basket. Always has. It’s his game.
Missouri tried to stop him that way, but with no success. Holloway knew what was going on.
“I know they scouted me going left,” he said. “It’s no secret. Everybody knows it. You’ve just got to stop it.”
Holloway, long known as a mediocre free throw shooter, at best, has improved in that area. There’s that confidence thing again.
“Yeah, I’ve been doing alright lately. I started hitching at the end (of this game),” he said. “Coach said you’re tired and you’re thinking. I’ve just been trying to get better with that, too.”
Ole Miss got so many hustle plays, especially early, to set the tone. Missouri head coach Frank Haith noticed.
“Obviously Ole Miss played great,” he said. “I thought they were much tougher than us. They played with much more energy. Their fans were great. We really didn’t do the things we’ve done all year. They were way more aggressive than we were, and it showed on the scoreboard.”
Holloway said this win can propel Ole Miss from here.
“This gives us a lot of confidence,” he said. “You feel like you can play with anybody.”
Holloway had one other closing thought. This season is about this team. But it’s also about their head coach.
“For me this is the last year," Holloway said. "Coach Kennedy, good guy, man. He’s doing a good job here. I feel like if we didn’t reach a certain point, they might try to get rid of my coach. But we’re going to do it. The man’s going to be here for a while.”
They’ll see Missouri again. In Columbia on Sat., Feb. 9.
A long time from now. But all that matters now is now.
“It was a little extra motivation for us this game,” Holloway said. “No. 10 team. You want to beat them. But we had to make those plays to beat that team.”
And they did. Over and over again.