Every basketball season has a clunker here and there. Just as made shots are contagious, so are missed shots. Ole Miss opened Wednesday night against Middle Tennessee 0 for 7 from the floor and had 10 turnovers in the game’s first nine minutes. Meanwhile, the Blue Raiders made 9 of their 11 first-half 3s. Ole Miss trailed 48-19 at halftime.
The hope is the clunker(s) don’t come at home, and especially against borderline NCAA Tournament teams. Losing on the road is one thing and typically doesn’t hurt too terribly much in the eyes of the selection committee, so long as the losing is reasonable enough. But home non-conference, resume-building opportunities are musts for NCAA Tournament hopefuls. No, the Rebels’ loss to Middle Tennessee isn’t a crippling one, per se, but make no mistake, it’s a significant setback at a time when Ole Miss should be boosting its postseason chances, not the opposite. Memphis becomes that much more important, as does their road trip to Virginia Tech next week. Ole Miss was No. 16 in RPI, according to RealTimeRPI.com, while Middle was No. 22. Memphis is No. 168. Virginia Tech is 89. The Rebels have to make up this loss somewhere, and they have to be impressive in how they do it. A double-digit at home to a comparable team isn’t going to sit well.
The question, though, is when will Ole Miss begin to make positive steps in its problem areas? Head coach Andy Kennedy has discussed, ad nauseam, how the team he sees in practice isn’t the team he’s seeing in games, especially defensively. The Rebels have proven capable in protecting the rim, but their perimeter defense remains a glaring, if not alarming, problem. They entered play 338th out of 347 Division-I teams in 3-point field goal defense. Their struggles continued as the Blue Raiders built an insurmountable lead by halftime. Granted, they were better in the second half, holding MTSU to 0 of 5 from distance, but the Blue Raiders ultimately made 56.3 percent of their 3s. Not good.
The beauty of basketball, though, is the opportunities keep coming, and Ole Miss may have figured out some things as it won the second half, 43-29. Kennedy went with an entirely different lineup in the frame, opting for Breein Tyree, Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey, Terence Davis, Karlis Silins and Marcanvis Hymon. They responded with a 10-2 run to spark the comeback bid. Tyree — who will be the starting point guard sooner rather than later — was particularly impressive with his 11 points in 16 minutes. Ole Miss continued to fight from there, pulling within nine. Still, on paper, a 15-point loss is a 15-point loss. There’s no reward for close losses. In the end, Ole Miss is 5-2. The season is in its infancy, and Ole Miss has flashed postseason potential. Lest we forget the Rebels’ strong play in the Virgin Islands. They were 2-1 with impressive performances against NCAA Tournament contenders Saint Joseph’s and Creighton. Wednesday was a perfect storm of sorts, and it has to be an outlier. We’ll know soon enough — at home, noon, vs. Memphis — whether it was.
Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy
On the loss: “It’s my job to have an explanation for that. Unfortunately I don’t. I think you guys that have covered me know I’m pretty candid. Call it like I see it. Always have, always will. It’s unacceptable. It starts with me. I’m going to do my job and try to get it corrected. The only thing that I knew to do at half was to change the personnel. I’ve heard (Ole Miss head football) coach (Hugh) Freeze say this, and I’m going to steal it, is it process or is it people? Is it something we’re doing wrong? And I’ve got to evaluate that. Or is it the people? Maybe I’ve got them in the wrong place. I’ve got to do a better job. But it’s completely unacceptable. I told our guys if you watch us play, you would think we’ve got a group of guys that aren’t good guys. They whine, they moan. I don’t see really good teammates. Your spirit proceeds you, and I don’t like the energy. That’s not who we are. I don’t know what happens when you guys come around or there are people in the stands. I don’t know what happens. I’ve got to figure that out. It’s my job.” On the turnovers: “Fourteen in the first half, seven in the first four minutes of the game. Game, set, match. (MTSU head coach) Kermit (Davis) and I are buddies. We played them in a three-year series years ago. As we were preparing for that 1-3-1 and the ball goes into the corner it shifts to a 2-3, as we’re preparing for that, I said this is difficult to prepare for, maybe we’ll do it. So I started using it. Guys, we go against that every day. The exact same rotations. Ball goes to the short corner, we trap it. Ball goes to the corner, we rotate. The exact same thing. We’ve been doing this since August. The problem is I’ve got guys, for whatever reason, they just freeze up. The second half it wasn’t a problem because we were attacking. They were running the same stuff, they had the same personnel. We had a different result because we had guys on the attack. I don’t know why we came out like that, passively. Turned it over seven times at the first media (timeout). We were down 14-1 or whatever it was. Then you start trying to make home run plays. It gets away from you. It’s hard to come back from 29. But we had it at nine with about six to play and had some opportunities. Didn’t get it done.”
On potential personnel moves: “We’ve got to give ourselves the best chance to win. I think that’s what everybody wants. What’s our best chance to win? I’ve got to evaluate who’s playing. I thought Breein was the lone bright spot. I thought Terence Davis gave us some energy, made some plays at the start of the second half to get us back in it. Those guys are athletic. Sometimes we look like we’re a step slow, and when you’re a step slow in certain spots and you’re not scouting-report savvy and you’re getting back-cut at the end of shot clocks, that tells me I’ve got to do some reevaluating.” On moving on from here: “The positive that I told our team was we play 31 regular season games. I don’t think they’re going to kick us out of the SEC tournament. They could. It’s possible. Maybe worthy if we continue to play like we did that half. That gives us 25 more. You know, if we win those 25 we’re going to have a pretty good year. I’d take 24-1. You? 23-2. Anybody go 20-5? I’d go 20-5. There’s still opportunities. We've got to get better, man. We flirted around with Tennessee-Martin. Ooh, lucky to win. We were down nine, same set of circumstances, against UMass. Finish on an 11-0 run. OK. Get pulled over sometimes and the cop doesn’t give you a ticket, you drive slow for about a mile and you don’t see him anymore and you speed up. Well, we just got a big-time ticket. We’re going to do a little time for this. We’ve got to play harder. We’ve got to be locked in. I’m tired of saying, guys, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go. It’s unacceptable. We’ve got to change that.” On the halftime locker room: “We’re down 29. What do you think? I didn’t go crazy. I’m not even sweating. This is a nice shirt. I should be sweating right through it. What are you going to do? I can’t go to the waiver wire. I told them they could all transfer if they’d like. That’s a possibility, I suppose. I'm not sure they’d have a lot of takers based on that performance. We’ve got to bow up and we’ve got to fight. Two kinds of people in this world: fighters and flyers. I’m a fighter. Always have been, always will be. Figuratively, literally. I’m a fighter. This team’s going to fight.”
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Giddy Potts scored 20 points and hit four 3-pointers to lead Middle Tennessee to a 77-62 victory over Mississippi on Wednesday night.
Middle Tennessee (7-1) hit 9 of 16 3-pointers as a team and shot 48 percent (29 of 60) from the floor in a game they dominated from the opening tip.
Ole Miss (5-2) struggled out of the gate, starting 0-for-7 from the field and turning the ball over 14 times in the first half. Middle Tennessee built a 16-1 lead early and eventually led 48-19 at the break.
Ole Miss opened the second half on a 10-2 run and chipped away at the MT lead for most of the half, but never led. The Rebels managed only two second-half turnovers and finished 19-of-27 from the free throw line, but in the end could not overcome their deep first-half hole.
Middle Tennessee made shots when it needed them and finished an efficient 10-of-12 from the free throw line, including several during a late Rebel push. Reggie Upshaw added 15 points for the Blue Raiders and JaCorey Williams chipped in 10.
Deandre Burnett led the Rebels with 15 points., while Cullen Neal added 13 points and Breein Tyree 11.
Middle Tennessee adds a quality road win to its non-conference resume. The Blue Raiders were an NCAA Tournament team last year, upsetting Michigan State in the first round.
Ole Miss will try to rebound with a home game versus Memphis on Saturday.
Middle Tennessee travels to South Alabama on Saturday.