Needing A Win

It's not even January and there's already at least some talk about a must-win. But Dayton might not be the place for the Ole Miss men's basketball team to get things turned back around.

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The Rebels, who were once 9-1, have dropped their last two games. Veteran junior leader Murphy Holloway won't be available for this one, still nursing an ankle back to health he injured in a spill in the last game.

Everybody could see the three-game stretch before the calendar turned to a new year with Southern Mississippi, Middle Tennessee State, and Dayton would be most difficult. Now there remains but one chance to get a victory.

Ole Miss and Dayton meet for the third straight season today at 7 p.m. Eastern Time in southwestern Ohio. Last season in Oxford, it was Dayton with the win in overtime. Two years ago in the NIT semifinals in Madison Square Garden, the Flyers won again.

A must win for Ole Miss? It's probably too early to call it that. But if Ole Miss loses and falls to 9-4, it won't be the start most anticipated after winning nine of the first ten.

The Flyers are already 9-4 overall but have won four of their last five games. They beat Alabama 74-62 before more than 13,000 fans in Dayton earlier this month.

"It's going to be tremendous," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said of the crowd the Flyers will have supporting them tonight. "They have a most rabid fan base for college basketball. There's no pro team around there."

Scoring balance continues to be this year's theme as the Flyers have six players who average more than seven points per game. Kevin Dillard (6-0, 170, junior guard) leads the offense averaging 12.0 points per game. Meanwhile, Josh Benson (6-9, 223, junior forward) has scored in double figures in five of his last six games. Benson is second on the team in scoring with 11.2 points per game and leads the Flyers in shooting with a .622 field goal percentage. At UD Arena during the 2011-12 campaign, the Flyers are limiting opponents to 60.9 points per game.

Andy Kennedy
Bruce Newman

Dayton, a member of the Atlantic 10 Conference, had lost only one non-conference home game in the previous five years combined. Already at home this season, the Flyers have lost two - to Buffalo and Seton Hall.

Kennedy said his team hasn't taken care of the basketball through 12 games, and that's one major reason a fast start has stalled with two losses.

"The thing I probably have been the most disappointed in is our lack of valuing the basketball," he said, his team with 201 turnovers through 12 games. "And it's not just one guy. It's really a plethora of guys. We turn it over way too much.

"We've just got to get better with our decision-making with the ball. And we've got to get better as it relates to being consistently strong in valuing the basketball."

One reason for the turnover problem has simply been the amount of players on the team who can handle the basketball. There were guards aplenty even before Ladarius White and Jelan Kendrick became eligible a couple of games ago.

"No question it's been difficult," Kennedy said of getting things figured out as far as the guards go. "I've never gone through it before. And I've never been on a staff where you integrate two guys into the season at the semester break. And two guys that you are counting on being contributors.

"It might be easier if you were putting them in at the four or the five, where they could integrate without having to be the focal point. But when you're doing it with guys who need to make plays with the basketball, it's made it even more difficult. It's been difficult to get your thumb on a rotation. Some of that is just the basics of how our team is made up. Some of that is that guys haven't separated themselves."

And there is a youth dimension to all this. With Holloway out the final ten minutes of a loss to Middle Tennessee State, and with Terrance Henry in foul trouble that same night and eventually fouling out, a lot of young players had to step in.

"There were times we had four freshmen and a sophomore on the floor," Kennedy said.

But he knows who should be on the court at all times. He names three. After that, they're still trying to get it all figured out.

"If Murph's healthy, we want him on the floor," Kennedy said. "Terrance Henry's our most experienced player. He needs to be on the floor. If Reg (Reginald Buckner) stays out of foul trouble, he needs to be on the floor. Some guys need to separate themselves, and you do that by being consistent with the minutes that you get.

"We want to be able to put our five best players on the floor, regardless of the position."

Unfortunately in Dayton without Holloway, they won't be able to do that. But they'll still try to get a win they need in a big way at a difficult place to do so.

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