In need of a spark, Kennedy putting the ball in the hands of his best player

Ole Miss is what it is, a talented but flawed basketball team still searching for its identity.

But head coach Andy Kennedy isn’t taking the Rebels’ problems lying down.

“The team is what it is,” he said. “We’ve just got to start getting greater contributions from different people.”

Ole Miss is 5-2 on the season with a trip to Springfield, Mass., to face off against UMass (5-1) up next. Tipoff is set for Saturday at 3 p.m. on NBCSN. 

The Rebels will feature a new-look lineup led by Stefan Moody, the No. 2 scorer in the SEC, at point guard. Kennedy made the move, while also shifting Anthony Perez into the starting lineup and mixing and matching at the two with Martavious Newby and Rasheed Brooks, following a disappointing loss to George Mason in the Charleston Classic last month.

Moody is averaging 22.0 points per game and 4.6 rebounds. He leads the team with 31 total assists compared to a team-leading 19 turnovers. In his four games running the offense, Moody has had more assists than turnovers in all but one game. He scored 21 points and dished out five assists while grabbing five rebounds in the Rebels’ win over Bradley Nov. 28.

“That’s the plan, unless something changes that we feel like is in our best interest moving forward,” Kennedy said. “But Moody is going to have the ball.”

Moody has played predominately off the ball in his career, including 34 games last season for Ole Miss when he earned first All-SEC honors from the Associated Press and tied for first in the conference in scoring in league play at 18.6 points per game. But Kennedy believes putting even more responsibility on his star player is what’s best for Ole Miss right now.

“I want him to distribute the ball, and he’s done that,” Kennedy said. “I want him to be efficient offensively. He hasn’t made perimeter shots at the rate I think he’s capable. Sometimes I think he feels as if he has to make the play as opposed to allowing the game to come to him. Offensively, we’ve adjusted some of the things that we’ve done just simply to still get him to his actions, which he’s been effective with. 

“We’ve made a lot of changes in a very short period of time. I don’t want to overreact, but also it’s my job to put these guys in a position to be successful. We’re constantly working at that.”

Moody can’t do it by himself, however. Ole Miss is shooting 42.5 percent from the floor for the year and only 29.2 percent from 3. 

Transfers Sam Finley and Tomasz Gielo, two players Ole Miss expected to be major contributors this season, have struggled early. Finley opened the year as the team’s starting point guard, but he’s made just 37.3 percent of his shot attempts and lost his job to Moody. He’s scored nine points combined in his last two games, and he’s recorded all of four assists in seven games.

Gielo, meanwhile, is averaging 6.6 points per game and 4.3 rebounds. He’s shooting at a 32.6 percent clip, including 31.6 percent from 3. He scored five points on 2 of 9 from the floor against Bradley after back-to-back double-digit scoring efforts in a loss to Seton Hall (15) and win over Georgia State (13).

“We’re not making shots at the rate I thought we would,” Kennedy said. “My hope is that some of it is we’ve got guys that have not been in this position before. Maybe nerves, maybe we need to see the ball go in. Like Tomasz. Tomasz is in the low-30s in his shooting percentage and the low-30s from 3. I think those numbers will change once we get a better sample size. My hope is that’s the same with Sam and the same with Rasheed (Brooks) and the same with J.T. (Escobar). Once they get a greater sample size, my hope is that the numbers will settle in.”

Ole Miss will look to get on a roll Saturday. The Rebels draw another tough early-season test in a UMass team that features a high-scoring backcourt trio of Jabarie Hinds (18.8 ppg), Trey Davis (18.8 ppg) and Donte Clark (16.8 ppg). The trio accounts for 66 percent of the Minutemen’s scoring.

UMass enters the game with an RPI rank of 63. The Minutemen blew out Clemson, 82-65, last week before losing in lopsided fashion to Creighton (97-76) and blowing out Boston (99-69).

“Another challenge for us,” Kennedy said. “They’re athletic, they’re fast. They’re small in the backcourt, but they’ve got three guards combining for around 55 a game. A transfer from Virginia in Jabari Hinds who’s getting about 20 points and five assists. He’s very similar to Moody; that’ll be a good matchup. It’ll be another difficult game for us, another road opportunity. Even though it’s neutral, we realize Amherst to Springfield is a little closer than Oxford to Springfield, so they’ll probably have a few more fans than we will.”

OM Spirit Top Stories