No margin for error

STARKVILLE, Miss. - It was in this building, Humphrey Coliseum, last season that Ole Miss saw its season slipping away before its eyes. The Rebels had been upset by lowly Mississippi State. The NCAA Tournament appeared unreachable.

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Here we are again.

Except this time, it is early in the Southeastern Conference slate. Ole Miss has plenty of time to rid itself of this loss. But the Rebels also have no margin for error, which could be a huge problem as they are likely to be in for at least a few more close games.

"There's been a pattern that's been formed," head coach Andy Kennedy said. "We're not going to blow many people out, and we haven't been blown out. Our guys scrap and fight. It's not always the most pleasing to watch from any vantage point, but we stay in games. Then it comes down to the stretch and you have to make plays."

Eleven straight Ole Miss games have been decided by 10 points or less. Kennedy's Rebels are 6-5 in those contests. Ole Miss now has five losses. At this point last season, the Rebels were 13-2 and had just pulled off a 15-point upset of then-No. 10 ranked Missouri.

Through 15 games, Ole Miss has already dropped three home games. Last year they lost one in Oxford all season, the sign of an inexperienced team.

"It does you no good if you are a veteran and you play as if it is the first time you've ever been in a college basketball game. Then you are going to opt to play a younger kid to give him the same opportunities that you've given the veteran. We have to turn the page to some of our younger guys," Kennedy said.

Andy Kennedy
USA TODAY images

Ole Miss starts with four juniors and usually a senior – Marshall Henderson served the final game of his suspension. But Kennedy wants more from Aaron Jones, Demarco Cox and Ladarius White.

Jones and Cox haven't come anywhere close to picking up the slack left by Reggie Buckner and Murphy Holloway's graduations. Jones shot 2 of 7, scoring four points, against Mississippi State, while Cox didn't play at all in the second half.

White has finally picked it up. He scored a season-high 16 tonight, plus he had 10 points against Auburn. However, he needs to become a consistent scorer to relieve the pressure from Henderson and Summers.

But Kennedy may be ready to make some major adjustments to the rotation. Dwight Coleby played 17 minutes and Janari Joesaar got three more minutes of playing time after his five-point performance against Auburn.

Ole Miss trailed Mississippi State for most of the game, but the Rebels made a run midway through the second half to take the lead. The lineup on the floor when Ole Miss grabbed their first lead of the second half: Derrick Millinghaus, Martavious Newby, Janari Joesaar, Anthony Perez and Dwight Coleby. Three sophomores and two freshmen.

Henderson will return for the final 16 conference games. But Ole Miss needs more than him. The rebounding isn't fixed; Mississippi State and Ole Miss are the worst two SEC teams in rebounding percentage. Ole Miss still can't score against a zone defense, and Ole Miss can't defend forwards on the perimeter.

There is a lot of time between now and the SEC Tournament, but the Rebels have no margin for error, and may be turning to the younger players to turn the season around.

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