Deandre Burnett/Petre Thomas

Deandre Burnett came up big in his Ole Miss debut Friday night

Deandre Burnett could have been forgiven for having a little rust Friday night.

Ole Miss opened the 2016-17 season with an 86-83 win over UT-Martin. The game marked the first for Burnett since March of 2015. But he showed no signs of a player who had been on the shelf, including a full season off due to NCAA transfer rules a year ago. Burnett transferred to Ole Miss from Miami (Fla.). 

No, Burnett shined. The junior scored a game-high 23 points, the most points by a Rebel in his debut since Johnny Neumann scored 41 in 1971. He made five of his 11 attempted shots. He was 3 of 6 from 3, and a perfect 10 of 10 from the free throw line. His final two sealed the victory in the final seconds.

“Man, it felt real good,” Burnett said. “(Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy) said it’s been 20 months. I really haven’t noticed. It just feel good come out with a win.”

As expected, though, he wasn’t perfect. He turned the ball over four times. Ole Miss (1-0), as a team, finished with an eye-popping 24. Burnett is well-aware if the Rebels are to get back to the NCAA Tournament for third time in the last five seasons, they have to protect the basketball.

“Just careless with the ball,” he said. “It’s not what the team is doing to us. It’s just us, like, not taking care of the ball and not valuing possession. Coach said we need to value possessions more, which is true. Take advantage of every possession.”

Andy Kennedy/Petre Thomas

“He’s got to get better in other areas,” Kennedy said of Burnett. “I need him to do more than just put the ball in the basket. I need him to not have four turnovers, and I need him to be more assertive in other areas.”

Of course, it’s still early. The 6-foot-2, 192-pound Burnett is sure to improve with each passing game and has he grows comfortable in his role as one of the team’s primary scoring options. Kennedy and Co. are certainly excited about his potential. Burnett appeared in 28 games for Miami (Fla.) in 2014-15. He averaged 7.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.5 steals in 17.4 minutes per game. 

Ole Miss hosts UMass tonight at 6 p.m. CT on the SEC Network.

“It was definitely a learning game,” Burnett said of UT-Martin. “You got to give UT-Martin credit. They came out and played tough, played hard and gave us a great game until the end. To win a close game like this, this is always a teaching point and things we can learn from in the end, like the turnovers, defensive assignments that we missed and things like that.”

NOTABLE

A win over UMass would move head coach Andy Kennedy into a tie for 20th on the SEC career coaching victories list with Joel Eaves of Auburn at 214 wins. Last season, Kennedy moved past MSU’s Rick Stansbury for the fourth-most wins by a head coach in their first 10 years after taking over an SEC program. Kennedy trails only Joe B. Hall, of Kentucky, (227), Billy Donovan, of Florida, (226) and Wimp Sanderson, of Alabama, (216) in SEC history. The Rebels were predicted to finish ninth in the SEC this year by the media. Ole Miss finished tied for sixth in the league standings after being projected ninth in the preseason media poll last year. The Rebels have finished above their preseason projected finish each of the last five seasons since the league moved away from a divisional for mat.


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