Then Tuesday against Louisiana Tech happened.
The Rebels exploded and the points came in bunches in a 99-80 rout of Louisiana Tech. Ole Miss (8-2) saw four players finish with double-dight points, including leading scorer Stefan Moody, who led all scorers with 29. Moody has now paced the Rebels in scoring in four-straight games. Ole Miss has won five in a row.
“We finally saw it,” head coach Andy Kennedy said. “Obviously when you make shots early everything looks better. We beat a quality team. We made shots, and it became contagious.”
Kennedy said earlier this week his team, after struggling to make shots for much of the last month-plus, simply needed to see the ball go in the basket. He didn’t have to wait long.
The Rebels entered the game shooting 41.8 percent from the floor, but they made 60 percent (21-30) of their first-half shot attempts with pretty much everyone chipping in. Moody had 16 at intermission, Tomasz Gielo 10, Rahseed Brooks eight and Anthony Perez six. Arguably no two regulars had been struggling like Gielo and Perez, each shooting no better than 35 percent. Brooks finished with 20 points, trailing only Moody, and Gielo had 13 points.
In all, Ole Miss made 37 of 65 field goals (56.9 percent) and 12 of 26 3s (46.2 percent).
“I thought our spacing was really good,” Kennedy said. “We made open looks at a much higher rate. We finished at the paint, which allowed us to get us some step-in jump shots, and we finally shot it like I see behind closed doors.”
Brooks provided the biggest boost. He was averaging just 6.1 points per game, but found his shooting stroke early and cashed in on his chances, converting 8 of 10 from the floor and 4 of 5 from 3 - this after a 1 for 8 night in an 11-point win over SEMO two days ago.
“He was really in his feelings the last couple of days,” said Kennedy, the all-time winningest coach at Ole Miss who picked up his 200th win. “Basketball’s a funny game. That first one goes in, you make two in a row, three in a row and you really forget everything else. That’s what you want.”
“I saw Moody hit his first 3, and me and him have a saying,” Brooks said. “(Golden State Warriors guard Stefan) Curry, when he hits one, maybe that’ll make Klay (Thompson) loosen up. I saw Curry hit one and Klay kind of loosened up.”
The 6-foot-5, 201-pound Brooks, a junior college transfer by way of Southwest Community College in Memphis, Tenn., admitted he had been slumping. He had failed to score in double figures in five-straight games, the last such outing a 12-point effort against Towson Nov. 20.
“I had a little slump,” he said. “I was kind of down on myself, went back to do the gym and put up a lot more shots. Just played with confidence. A.K. just told us to come out and play freely. Don’t think about everything we talk about, just come out and play freely, play basketball and do what you’ve been doing. Trust it. Trust the work.”
Ole Miss returns to action Friday at Memphis at 7 p.m.