Comfort of Home

Ole Miss picked up its 22nd win Tuesday night against Alabama.


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The Rebels played one of their more complete games of the season, save for Alabama's late-game 3-point barrage. Ole Miss shot over 50 percent from the floor and forced 17 turnovers, 14 in the first half, in an 87-83 win on Senior Night. Marshall Henderson led the team with 24 points on an efficient 6 of 13 shooting.

To think, this was the same team that lost at Mississippi State three days ago.

Ole Miss (22-8, 11-6 SEC) suffered a resume-deflating loss to its in-state rival on Saturday. The Rebels appeared lethargic in the game, as if the Bulldogs were the ones playing for their first NCAA tournament berth in a decade.

There's something to be said about playing in the friendly confines of the home gym. Just ask Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy.

"Offensively, we're so much better in this building," Kennedy said of the Rebels, who made 55 percent of their field goal attempts (27 of 49) against the best defensive team in the SEC in Alabama. "We've got to be able to carry that over on the road. I thought we were sharing the ball, attacking the basket."

Coach speak, in a way, but as the SEC has proven this season, winning on the road is a difficult proposition. Somewhat anecdotal evidence, but Florida is the only team in the SEC with a winning record on the road this season, yet the far-superior Gators have three losses.


Andy Kennedy
USA TODAY images

"I wish I had an answer for you," Alabama head coach Anthony Grant said of winning on the road in-conference, his team now 19-11 overall and 11-6 in league play following the loss. "I think there's a comfort that comes with it, obviously. Familiarity comes with it, the support that you get. There's as lot of different factors that play into that."

Ole Miss is 5-6 in total on the road and 3-5 vs. SEC teams, compared to its 16-1 (8-1) mark at home. Alabama, a fellow NCAA tournament hopeful, is now 4-8 overall and 3-6 in the league.

Thing is, the Rebels were so much better away from Tad Smith Coliseum at the beginning of the SEC schedule.

They won their first three, including wins at Tennessee and Vanderbilt, historically tough venues for Ole Miss. The last time Ole Miss won at Tennessee and at Vanderbilt in the same season was 1980. All was well, or so it seemed.

Because there were warning signs. Ole Miss had to come from behind to beat a bad Vanderbilt team, the first win for Ole Miss in Nashville since 2001. The Rebels were down 13 points with eight minutes remaining. They closed the game on a 34-12 run.

They snuck out of Auburn with a two-point win. Henderson made a go-ahead free throw with 6.4 seconds left. Frankie Sullivan missed a would-be game-winning 3 as the buzzer sounded. By comparison, Ole Miss beat Auburn by 33 points when the Tigers rolled into Oxford two weeks ago.

Ole Miss wasn't so lucky in its last five road games. The Rebels lost all five, none worse than the one in Starkville, where Mississippi State, losers of 13 straight games, handed Ole Miss an embarrassing 73-67 defeat.

"I just think, historically, it's tough when you go into someone else's venue," Kennedy said. "I don't know if it's fan intimidation, or your familiarity with your own basket. I don't really understand it. Everybody struggles with it a little bit.

"We were really good in our SEC opener at Tennessee. We stole the one at Vandy, and we sneak out at Auburn. It wasn't like we went in there and were just dominating. The three losses that have got us sitting here on this fence - South Carolina, Mississippi State and Texas A&M - we played the same way that we did against Auburn and Vandy. We could have easily lost those games, as we could have easily won the others, if you keep playing in that margin for error. We've got to correct that, and we've got to correct that Saturday."


Murphy Holloway
USA TODAY images

Let's compare Ole Miss' road performance with more bubble teams.

Tennessee - despite two losses to Ole Miss, is one of the "last four in," according to Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com - boasts a 3-7 overall road record and 3-5 mark in SEC games. Arkansas dropped to 1-9 away from Fayetteville with a 30-point loss at Missouri tonight. Kentucky is 4-6, including 4-4 in games played outside of Rupp Arena.

Had the Rebels not lost close games at SEC cellar-dwellers South Carolina and Mississippi State, they would be playing for a share of the SEC title Saturday at LSU.

The Mississippi State loss is the toughest to swallow not only for fans, but for Kennedy and his team. How bad are the Bulldogs? They're 8.5-point underdogs at South Carolina, a team with an identical 3-13 league record.

If Ole Miss is to give itself any chance to make the NCAA tournament outside of winning it all in the SEC tournament in Nashville, Tenn., next week - Palm has the Rebels as one of his "first four out" - it's going to have to break through at LSU.

The Tigers (17-10, 8-8 SEC) are 14-2 at home this season. They're 6-2 against league foes. An Ole Miss win would guarantee a first-round bye in Nashville, meaning the Rebels wouldn't have to play until Friday.

"I think energy," Holloway, who scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds tonight, said. "We're fighting for our life. I hope everybody knows that we bring mad energy and defense to (LSU). I'm just going to keep trying to play as long as I can. I hope my last game is in the (NCAA) tournament."


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