Slow Playing

Chris Warren had a telling but familiar quote following his team's loss to South Carolina Tuesday.

Warren was selected as the player of the game by Ole Miss play-by-play radio announcer David Kellum and color analyst Keith Carter. In speaking with Carter postgame, Warren said sometimes when the game starts, the Rebels are "not really ready to play, which is not good at all."

Ole Miss is 28 games into its season, with only three Southeastern Conference games remaining until the league tournament in March. At 17-11 overall and 5-8 in conference play, the Rebels are seemingly out of the NCAA Tournament discussion, barring a clean sweep in Atlanta to qualify for an automatic bid.

But Warren's words begged the question: Why, with so few precious games left and so much at stake, would Ole Miss have trouble with motivation, intensity in games?

Dundrecous Nelson earned his first career start against South Carolina
Courtesy: Bruce Newman
Ole Miss has played seven conference games in February. Three times the Rebels trailed at halftime. Twice they lost. They were tied with Mississippi State, but fell apart in the second half.

Three times they led at halftime. They won all three of those games.

When speaking with the media Thursday, head coach Andy Kennedy, freshman guard Dundrecous Nelson and senior guard Zach Graham attempted to shed some light on the subject. However, there was no clear answer.

"It seems like every game we come out flat. Every game," Nelson, who earned his first career start against the Gamecocks, said.

"Maybe we're down eight points with seven minutes left. Second half, we seem to play hard then, when we should play like that from the beginning of the game to the end."

Yes, but why the slow starts?

"Well, I think talking is good, but without action it's pretty useless," Kennedy said. "I would hope as you're approaching March, I think this team knows what they're supposed to do. Now it's just a matter of doing it over the course of 40 minutes.

"There are plays in every game which determine winning from losing. You have to make more winning plays to win in this league. Our inconsistency in that area is what drives a coach crazy."

Now we're getting somewhere.

Ole Miss shot 37 percent, its best shooting percentage in each of its last three losses, from the floor in its loss to South Carolina. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, made 40 percent of their field-goal attempts.

In its other two losses, Ole Miss was no better than 36 percent from the floor, while Mississippi State and Alabama both shot at least 46 percent. A 31-point win over Auburn was sandwiched between the losses. Ole Miss was good on 57 percent of its shots. Auburn was 41 percent from the floor.

Andy Kennedy said Ole Miss hasn't made enough winning plays
Courtesy: Associated Play
"I think once we feel the sense of urgency, once we see we can win the game, we play harder," Graham said. "But we have to come out and play like that from the start. We just need to approach our games with better focus."

Ole Miss trailed Alabama -- a team the Rebels host Saturday at 3 p.m. -- by 20 at halftime in Tuscaloosa. The Rebels cut the lead to six, though they ultimately lost, midway through the second half, thanks mostly to inspired defense which created easy buckets offensively.

Ole Miss beat Kentucky on a game-winning 3-pointer by Warren. The Rebels had the lesser shooting percentage, but made the winning play, as Kennedy alluded to Thursday.

"I think right now we just need to play with pride and just play hard," Graham said. "I don't know why we wouldn't be motivated. There is still always the possibility to get in (to the NCAA Tournament). We've got three games left. We still got the SEC Tournament. As long as we've got games left on the schedule, I'm always going to be motivated to play."

And it starts with playing hard for 40 minutes.

"At the beginning of the year, everybody felt good about coming in this year," Nelson said. "We practiced so hard to win so many games. But we fell short in a couple of games. Just playing hard, that's all it goes back to. We let up on teams. We don't match their intensity. We come out flat. We've just got to play hard."

Alabama (19-8, 11-2 SEC) has already clinched the SEC West title. Ole Miss is 11-4 at home this season, including a 3-3 mark in SEC games. The Rebels' 5-8 league record is a game behind Arkansas and Mississippi State for second place in the West Division.

The No. 2 seed in the West earns a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament.

"We're really just trying to stay hungry," Nelson said. "We're just trying to grind the season out."

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