“It’s just us,” senior forward M.J. Rhett said.
The Rebels are 15-7 (6-3 SEC) on the year following their 69-59 win over Texas A&M on Wednesday. Though they struggled early in the year, including a season-opening loss to Charleston Southern, now No. 200 in the RPI, they’ve rebounded in a big way lately, even leading the SEC in scoring in conference games at 74.3 points per game.
Rhett said it’s simply a matter of a team with five new roster additions finally playing together.
“We’ve got five seniors, five juniors,” he said. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be playing like this. It took us a long time because we’re a new group. But now we’ve pulled it together and we’re trying to finish the season out strong and make a run at the NCAA tournament.”
“We're still alive,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. “As you 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 in certain things. And we've got to continue grinding through these next few weeks.”
Ole Miss will trip to the Plains to take on Auburn at 5:30 p.m. on the SEC Network. A win would give the Rebels their longest winning streak against SEC foes since 2012-13. They’re in a three-way tie for second place in the conference standings at the halfway mark of league play.
Ole Miss is firmly in the NCAA tournament picture. Renowned bracketologist Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com currently projects the Rebels as a No. 10 seed playing No. 7 Indiana in Pittsburgh.
Put simply, they’re in a good spot. But to stay there the wins need to keep coming, because the ugly losses to start sure aren’t going away.
“We had some bad losses,” Rhett said. “That Charleston Southern loss was a bad loss. We just need to keep building, keep making up for the losses we had before and keep winning. If we keep going with this winning streak, we’ll be fine.”
And it starts with Auburn.
The Tigers, who rank no. 166 in the latest RPI rankings released by the NCAA, are 10-11 (2-6 SEC) on the year. Ole Miss sits at No. 44 in the RPI and is 3-3 against the RPI top-35, with wins over No. 22 Arkansas, No. 32 Cincinnati and No. 33 Texas A&M. The Rebels strength of schedule is 36th nationally according to ESPN.com.
“We were aware that it was a top-50 RPI team,” Rhett, who is averaging 6.8 points and 4.8 rebounds on the year, said of the win over Texas A&M. “Coach mentioned it to us. It’s a big win for us. We’re trying to get to that second spot in the SEC and stay there and finish the season out strong.”
Finishing on the road hasn’t been much of a problem for Ole Miss this season.
In the non-league portion of their schedule, the Rebels picked up a win at Oregon and two neutral-site victories over then-No. 23 Creighton and Cincinnati. They’ve followed suit in SEC play with wins at Arkansas and Missouri. Even their losses were impressive, namely a three-point overtime defeat at No. 1 Kentucky.
“It’s just the atmosphere,” Rhett said. “We like going in, taking what they got. Everybody’s supposed to have that confidence on the road. We try to go in there and kill everybody’s confidence.”
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