Andy Kennedy was visibly, and vocally, frustrated Wednesday night. His Ole Miss Rebels had suffered a rather ugly 15-point loss to Middle Tennessee. No one was safe as he sat down at the podium for his postgame press conference — coaches, players, you name it. He called everyone out, including himself. He said he had to do a better job, that he would re-evaluate every aspect of his team, from personnel to scouting to game-planning.
Job well done.
Ole Miss was noticeably improved in all phases in a 85-77 win over Memphis. The Tigers entered play with an RPI rank of 186, compared to 47 for Ole Miss. The Rebels, in two days of practice time, displayed a more balanced, controlled brand of basketball on the offensive end and an energy-filled approach defensively. Kennedy opted for a starting lineup of Breein Tyree, Deandre Burnett, Terence Davis, Marcanvis Hymon and Sebastian Saiz. (In my opinion, far and away his best group.) The result was a more free-flowing pace, which is to be expected with Tyree in place of Cullen Neal, a two-guard by trade who is out of position when asked to be a team’s primary point guard. Tyree, a point guard in the truest sense, made some mental mistakes. He was lost at times in running offensive sets, and when Tyree gets confused, he defaults to shoot, shoot and shoot some more. He was up and down defensively, too. But he flashed why Kennedy and Co. are so high on him, scoring his six points all in the first half on two 3s, the first of which opened the scoring for the Rebels. Neal, in turn, settled in as the No. 1 scoring option for the No. 2 offense, a role perfectly suited for his skill-set. His last-second, buzzer-beating 3 provided Ole Miss its 10-point halftime cushion. He actually logged the third-most minutes in the game, behind only Burnett and Saiz. Just because Neal is, for now, no longer a starter, doesn’t mean his role is in any way diminished. Not even remotely. Kennedy is simply recalibrating his rotations, and Neal fits best, for the time being, where he is. And he shined. He was arguably the player of the game. His 3 with three minutes remaining in the game capped a deciding 20-3 run over a four-minute period for a commanding 81-69 lead. He dominated minutes, and rightfully so. He wasn’t a starter in name only.
But it doesn’t stop there. First, the turnovers. Ole Miss turned the ball over seven times in the first four minutes against MTSU. The Rebels logged seven total in the first half and a season-low 11 in total. While Hymon is an undersized post, he’s underrated in his effective rim-protecting ability. He’s quick in defensive rotations, too, and is one of the best on-ball defenders the Rebels have. Justas Furmanavicius, like Neal, came off the bench. It was the second time this season he’s done so, having previously started five of seven games. His energy and ability to create extra possessions on the offensive end worked better when paired with Neal in the second unit. Hymon could be in the starting lineup to stay. (Of course, he can’t foul out like he did Saturday.) And because of Hymon’s offensive limitations, Saiz is pushed even more to be more assertive on offense, as he was in nearly logging a double-double by halftime. His 20 points and 16 rebounds were impressive, but at this point standard fare for the senior. Kennedy called more designed sets for Saiz, and Saiz, on his own, even created his own offense in spurts, which the Rebels will need more of. It’s a simplistic observation, but Saiz has to be good. He has to be assertive. He has to control the paint. And he has to do all these things on a near nightly basis.
There were negatives, too. Ole Miss was 1-10 to open the second half, including a 1 of 5 mark from 3. Memphis was in the double bonus at 10:27 because the Rebels couldn’t stop fouling, and the Tigers took their first lead at 58-57 thanks to a 13-0 run in the opening minutes. Still, Ole Miss answered, even overcoming a baffling decision by Davis, who attempted a 360 dunk, and missing, with the game tied at 68. He redeemed himself by making both free throws, as well as two more with just over four minutes to go for a 76-69 lead. But awareness. Discipline. Playing within the confines of the team concept. Davis gets wild on the floor too often, leading to self-inflicted turnovers and head-scratching plays. It’s what’s keeping him from playing more. His propensity for instant offense is appealing, if not alluring, especially for a team that can become susceptible to scoring droughts, but the only way he beats out Rasheed Brooks and becomes one of the most minute-heavy players is if he gets in control.
But all in all, Saturday was the rebound the Rebels desperately need. Now comes a week off for finals before a road tilt at Virginia Tech a week from Sunday. The Rebels have their feet under them again. They’ve righted the ship in many respects. On from here.
Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy
On Davis’ attempted dunk: “Can you believe that? Can you believe that? I thought of a lot of things, man. We’re growing as a team. The reality was we’ve got a lot of guys in a lot of spots in there. It’s nice to grow with a win, especially in a rivalry game that I know is important to a lot of Ole Miss people. I wish it would have been a little smoother but, quite frankly, we probably needed that, if we can grow from it and learn from it. I was really pleased with our approach the last couple of days after the debacle of a first half. I thought the second half against Middle was respectable because we fought. But the first half was a complete debacle. It was the worst half of basketball I’ve ever been apart of at Ole Miss. For us to respond over the last two days, hold ourselves accountable and come out of the gate, I thought, with great energy, I thought our focus was locked in. We were moving the ball. We had 13 assists in the first half, which is a typical game for us. It shows we were really moving the ball. Second half, to Memphis’ credit, Tubby Smith is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, we knew they were going to make adjustments. They started really hurting us when we were trying to half-court trap them, which was effective in the first half. They made some adjustments, played over the top, and the next thing you know you look up and you’re behind. I thought our guys really responded as you’d hope they would.”
On the team’s rotations, Neal coming off the bench: “I thought Cullen made good decisions with the ball. Really shot the ball well, had a huge 3 as we were mounting that comeback at the end. Deandre Burnett, the next step for him is making better basketball decisions. He can get downhill, he’s averaging around eight free-throw makes a game, which is leading the SEC. He gets in that traffic and he’s getting converged upon by their whole team. I thought a couple of times we could have pitched it to a cleaner look, but that’s the next evolution for him. Sebas was the man. That’s what you want your workhorse to be. We’re going to run offense through him, as you saw early, despite them doubling him. Sebas has been double-teamed more this season through eight games than he probably has been in his career. I think he’s getting much more comfortable with it and making better decisions. He was our workhorse, made huge plays. Marcanvis Hymon was terrific down the stretch by protecting the rim. We’re up 52-40, loose ball, he blocks a shot, a little excited, he says something he shouldn’t have said. Next thing you know, that’s when they started their run. He’s on the bench with four fouls because technicals count as personals. Again, another learning experience for him.” On if MTSU grabbed their attention: “There’s no way to avoid it. It was terrible with the naked eye. Thank God you guys didn’t have to watch it twice. I watched it three times. Can you believe that? Everybody wants to be a coach. I watched it three times. It was awful every time. We showed it to the guys, and they owned it. That’s what I was proud of. They owned it, and I thought we made the necessary adjustments. Let’s not kid ourselves, guys. I know coaches aren’t supposed to say this, but this was a must-win. We knew that. We knew in order for our season to have hope, you’ve got to protect home floor and you certainly can’t drop two in a row at home prior to going to an ACC team next (Sunday). Now we go into exams. I know our guys are super excited about that. I think most are heading to the library as we speak. We’ll hope to get better.”
OXFORD, Miss. -- Sebastian Saiz scored 20 points and grabbed 16 rebounds as Mississippi defeated Memphis 85-77 Saturday.
Deandre Burnett scored 19 points and Cullen Neal added 12 for the Rebels (6-2), who hit 28 of 33 free throws (85 percent), including 17 straight in the final eight minutes. Ole Miss had a 20-3 run in the second half to wipe out a 66-61 deficit.
Memphis (6-2) was led by K. J. Lawson with 17 points, while Markel Crawford and Jeremiah Martin had 16 and 14 points, respectively. The Tigers used a 24-5 surge early in the second half to build a 62-57 lead with 9:50 left, but could not match Ole Miss in the final eight minutes.
Ole Miss was 25 of 58 (43 percent) from the field, while Memphis finished 26 of 61 (43 percent). The Tigers were 19 of 29 (66 percent) from the line and outrebounded Ole Miss 38-37, led by Dedric Lawson and Crawford with six apiece.
Memphis finished with four starters at four fouls apiece and got only 13 points from the bench. The foul trouble was especially obvious as Memphis was burned by a late 20-3 run. Ole Miss had only four turnovers in the second half and only one during the decisive surge.
Memphis: Leading scorer and rebounder Dedric Lawson was limited to eight points and six rebounds in 19 minutes. The Tigers still managed to build a five-point lead heading into the final eight minutes despite extended foul trouble.
Ole Miss: After a blowout home loss to Middle Tennessee State and trailing in the second half to Memphis, the Rebels showed mental toughness and play-making ability with the late rally. Neal's performance off the bench, which included three assists and a steal, provided a lift.
Memphis: Gets a week off before hosting Monmouth on Saturday
Ole Miss: Visits Virginia Tech on Dec. 11 before closing December with a four-game home stand.