“We’re a group that really throws the kitchen sink at you defensively. Tonight we probably played 80 percent in man,” he said. “A zone against them was concerning. I thought we were really locked in defensively. “
Ole Miss led 33-32 at halftime and the Aggies hung around for most of the contest. But the Rebels did late what they arguably do best in this one.
They didn’t score a basket after a Jarvis Summers jump shot with 3:26 to go made it 63-54. In the final 39 seconds, the Rebels were 6-of-6 from the free throw line.
“We were a little shaky at the foul line early for us, a team that shoots about 80 percent. But we made them down the stretch,” Kennedy said.
But it was defensively that the Rebels grinded this one out.
“Some of it is experience, and we have a theme: Stay connected,” Kennedy said. “Try to shrink the floor. Based on scouting reports, you can’t allow shooters to shoot and you can’t allow drivers to drive. I think we’ve done a better job of recognizing that. I was really proud of our effort defensively, most especially in the second half.”
It’s early February now, and this Ole Miss squad keeps finding a way. And what people are finding out about this Rebel team is that it’s pretty good.
This isn’t the same ballclub that lost four December games, three of them at home. It’s an Ole Miss team that all of a sudden finds itself tied for second place in the Southeastern Conference at 6-3 behind everybody’s No. 1 – the Kentucky Wildcats who are 9-0.
“Obviously it wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing game at times. These are the kind of games you’ve got to win in early February,” said Kennedy, his team now 15-7 overall and with every passing win another step closer to being in the NCAA Tournament for a second time in three seasons.
Who knows what it will take to get in at this point? And that goes for all teams – except everybody’s No. 1 Kentucky.
Certainly not the other Coach Kennedy in the building tonight, the Aggies’ Billy Kennedy, whose team fell to 15-6 and is one of those tied with the Rebels at 6-3 in the league.
“We just have so many games left that I think it’s too early to say,” Billy Kennedy said. “I only know we play Missouri next, and I try not to look any further than that.”
Next up for the Rebels is a game Saturday at Auburn at 5:30 p.m. on the SEC Network. Auburn, 10-11 overall and 2-6 in SEC play, is at LSU (16-5, 5-3) Thursday night. Then it hosts Ole Miss.
Billy Kennedy wasn’t all that pleased with how his team handled things in Oxford. He knows they’ve been much better than that recently. The Aggies had won six games in a row.
“We didn’t play very well,” Billy Kennedy said. “I’m not taking anything away from Ole Miss.”
And he shouldn’t. Nobody should at this point.
“We’re 6-3 at the midway point,” Andy Kennedy said. “We’re still alive as we approach the first weekend in February. As a coach, that’s really all you can ask. We’ve got to continue to improve. We’ve got to continue to get better at certain things. And we’ve got to continue grinding these next few weeks.”
All the while proving to just about everybody who is paying attention that it’s a pretty good team already.
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