So much for momentum.
Ole Miss held serve in its postseason pursuit with a road win at Auburn on Saturday. The win meant the Rebels were, despite their warts, solidly in the NCAA Tournament discussion, even if their resume was underwhelming and lacked signature wins. Their high-30s RPI was good enough, as was their Top 15 strength of schedule. A loss at Auburn would have been difficult to overcome. Such games are all but assumed for NCAA Tournament hopefuls, as are midweek home dates with a comparable, middle-of-the-road Georgia team.
Ole Miss had one of its worst efforts Wednesday, however. The Rebels shot under 20 percent in the first half and trailed by 12 at halftime. They made a few attempts at runs in the second half, getting as close as seven points twice, but they never really threatened. The Pavilion atmosphere was lethargic throughout, and understandably so. Ole Miss got away from its winning formula early and could never recover, and now, after a 69-47 loss, which dropped the Rebels to 10-6 overall and 1-3 in SEC games, they have dug a significant NCAA Tournament hole for themselves; one they’ve yet to show through three months that they’re capable of climbing out of.
At this point, we know exactly who the Rebels are. They’re a good rebounding team, but they turn the ball over too much. Sebastian Saiz is a fantastic player, a walking double-double who presents matchup problems for every opponent he lines up against. But Cullen Neal and Deandre Burnett (Burnett suffered a high-ankle sprain in the loss) haven’t provided the veteran spark they’ve needed. They’d played major Division-I minutes at previous stops at New Mexico and Miami (Fla.), respectively, when they signed on as Rebels. That experience was supposed to eliminate any transition or acclamation period. Instead, they’ve struggled to produce at an even remotely consistent level. Andy Kennedy probably longs for a Chris Warren or Jarvis Summers or, say, Devontae Shuler, a Top 100 guard according to Scout.com who will be arriving a year late after signing with the Rebels in November. At least Shuler will have transfer 7-footer Dominik Olejniczak.
Imagine Saiz, an accomplished and remarkably consistent player, with a lead guard to play alongside him — the role Neal or Burnett or both was supposed to play. Ole Miss doesn’t have a true point guard. The Rebels are getting little or no production from the four. Marcanvis Hymon is a liability offensively. Justas Furmanivicus isn’t much better. Defenses roll towards Saiz with no concern whatsoever to the shooters they leave behind. Rasheed Brooks hasn’t taken the next step in his development. He’s still a gunner who isn’t efficient enough to rely on for every-game offense. Terence Davis flashes brilliance and then disappears. And it’s looking increasingly likely Breein Tyree won’t be the ball-dominant guard Kennedy believes he can be until next season.
So here Ole Miss sits, in mid-January, on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament bubble with a road date to South Carolina — a mid-tier SEC contender — up next. There are opportunities aplenty, to be sure. But Wednesday was, to put it mildly, discouraging. Honestly, it was one of the worst performances I’ve attended in my eight seasons covering Kennedy-coached Ole Miss teams.
So, yeah, so much for momentum.
(Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy)
On the loss: “Everything, to me, starts with energy. If your energy’s not good then you have no chance, really, in any facet of life, but most especially as an SEC athlete. I thought our energy out of the gate was pretty good. I thought defensively we were pretty good. The changing of defenses, I thought, was effective. It was allowing us to stay in the game despite our inability to score. When you shoot 16 percent in a half, when you shoot 53 percent from the free throw line, and this is from a team that has shown one thing. We’ve shown, hey, we’re going to turn that thing over. That’s my fault. I can’t imagine guys who can’t dribble, pass and shoot at this level. I can’t imagine it. Some of the things we do with the ball I’ve never seen before in my 10 years as a coach. So we’re going to turn it over. OK, we’ve got to out-rebound people. For some reason, maybe because it’s the competition has gotten better, I don’t know, but we’re not rebounding. We’re down 10 on the glass, and this is from a team that lead the SEC in rebounding margin prior to the Auburn game. And we make free throws; around 76 percent as a team coming into tonight. If you take (Marcanvis Hymon) and Justas out of that, it’s close to 80. When you shoot 53 percent in your own building and you miss 15 free throws, four of which are front-ends, it’s a recipe for disaster. I wish I could tell you I saw it coming. I certainly did not.” On Georgia doubling Saiz: “I thought Sebas, early, kind of gave into it. You’ve got to be aggressive because you don’t want their defensive tactic to take away your best option. But at the same time, you have to play basketball. We call it 4-X, man. Big to big, double in the post. That’s what I would do, too. Our other big, (Hymon), is supposed to dive, and we’re supposed to fill behind him. We dove him a couple of times, fumbled the ball, missed layups, get fouled, missed free throws. Empty possesions. Why wouldn’t you keep doubling? Make the right read, throw to the wing and miss open shots. So Sebas feels like, oh, I’ve got to go make a play. As a result, he goes 3 for 9.” On shooting struggles: “It’s just about players making plays. We’re at the halfway point of the season. This isn’t about anything but players making plays and playing hard enough and being committed. Big difference between being interested and being committed. We’re interested. Everybody wants to win. But are we committed to it? I don’t think we are to the level we need to be based on our personnel.” On bouncing back: “I hope we respond better than we did tonight. In college basketball, one game doesn’t really determine anything as it pertains to the next one. I know that we better do a better job in every area if we’re going to give ourselves a chance. If we don’t improve in every area, we have no chance.”
OXFORD, Miss. -- (AP) J.J. Frazier scored 17 points, Yante Maten added 15 points and 11 rebounds and Georgia beat Mississippi 69-47 on Wednesday night.
Georgia (11-5, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) led for almost the entire game, scoring nine straight points to take a 17-9 lead midway through the first half.
Ole Miss (10-6, 1-3) had easily its worst offensive game of the season. Before Wednesday's rough night, the fewest points the Rebels had scored this season was 62 in a loss to Middle Tennessee. Terence Davis led the Rebels with 12 points while Sebastian Saiz added 11.
Georgia jumped out to a 30-18 halftime lead after the Rebels shot just 5 of 30 (16.7 percent) from the field. The Ole Miss offense was hobbled when Deandre Burnett, who is the team's leading scorer at 19 points per game, sprained his ankle in the first half and didn't return.
Georgia: The Bulldogs had another impressive performance in conference play, especially on the defensive end. Frazier and Maten were once again a good one-two combination on the offensive end.
Ole Miss: The Rebels had a big chance to gain momentum after a nice road win over Auburn on Saturday. Instead, Ole Miss played one of its worst games of the season. The offense looked lost most of the night, especially after Burnett's injury.
STAT OF THE GAME
Ole Miss finished with just four assists and shot 14 of 51 (27.5 percent) from the field.
Georgia: The Bulldogs travel to face No. 23 Florida on Saturday.
Ole Miss: The Rebels travel to face South Carolina on Saturday.