He was questionable all week after suffering a high-ankle sprain in a 69-47 loss to Georgia Jan. 11. Burnett, who leads the Rebels in scoring, only played 13 minutes in the game after coming down awkwardly in his attempt to avoid a collision with Bulldog guard J.J. Frazier. He didn’t take a single practice rep for 10 days, and he was a non-participant in the Rebels’ 80-69 win over Tennessee.
Most of his time was spent in a walking boot.
But Ole Miss would have been down to seven scholarship players without him. Senior guard Rasheed Brooks didn’t travel to Columbia due to his recovery from a seizure against the Volunteers three days prior. Fully ready or not, Burnett was thrust into action.
He played 36 minutes, his second-highest total in 14 games, scoring 14 points on 4 of 11 shooting. He was 3 of 6 from 3, including a critical make late in the game. He also converted 3 of 5 free throws. Burnett ranks second in the SEC in free throw percentage, third in scoring and eighth in 3s.
“A little sore after the game, but I’m good,” Burnett said. “It felt good being back out there. I had a feeling in my head since I found out ‘Sheed wasn’t going to play that I was going to try to play myself. Just give it a go, go out there and see how I do.
“Most of it was adrenaline. At the end of the game I didn’t even know I had played 36 minutes until I saw (Andy Kennedy’s postgame) interview. During the game, it was mostly adrenaline. I didn’t really feel it at all. After the game of course it’s going to be sore, but during the game I didn’t feel it at all.”
Burnett said he’s full go for Texas A&M. He has no choice, really. Ole Miss (12-7, 3-4 SEC) hosts the Aggies (10-8, 2-5) Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPN2.
“I thought he would be able to play,” Kennedy said. “I didn’t know to what extent. He certainly didn’t know to what extent either. He may have played a season-high in minutes, and that’s just based on where we are as a team. I started looking around and I said, ‘Dre, you feel OK? You feel OK?’ ‘Oh, I’m getting a little tired.’ ‘Oh, OK, just keep going. Just keep playing. Play harder. We’ll rest later.’
“Once he got going, he really didn’t have any ill effects, which speaks to his physical toughness. He’s still playing with a high-ankle sprain.”
Prior to his injury, Ole Miss had committed to Burnett as its primary point guard. Kennedy said that’s still the plan, for the most part, though the emergence of freshman Breein Tyree has provided the Rebels the flexibility of continuing to play Burnett off the ball some, too.
Burnett is willing to do whatever’s needed, regardless of where he lines up.
“I think I’m ready,” he said. “Each of the two games I played fully point guard we won both games. Georgia game, I got hurt. I think I’m ready. I’ve experienced a couple of games to get the point guard position under my belt, so I think I’m ready to go. And with coach Kennedy’s help, he’s going to put in the right positions and the right spots to make the right plays that he knows I can make. It’s just about me making the plays.
“The only real adjustment I’ve made is picking my spots, knowing when to score, knowing I have to get everyone involved, get the team in the offense and knowing when we need a bucket or a good offensive set ran. Just picking your spots and knowing what to run and when to run it. When you’ve got winning on your mind, that’s all that matters. You figure it out eventually. That’s all that matters to me at this point is winning. If I’ve got to take a back seat and do what the team needs, I’ll do it.”
Kennedy doesn’t believe Burnett’s injury will impact his ability to run the team.
“I think I said this last year with (Stefan) Moody when he was coming off the hamstring (injury),” Kennedy said. “I think the same thing happened with ‘Dre. When you have a hamstring or a high-ankle sprain, cutting and quick, sudden movements is the most difficult thing. When you have the ball in your hands, honestly, it’s easier than trying to get open off the ball.
“I told him when he got hurt against Georgia I wanted him to go the Ronnie Lott route, ‘cause he’s not very athletic anyway. Let’s just cut it off. Remember Ronnie Lott in the Super Bowl? He just cut his finger off. I said, ‘Let’s just cut it off, man. Hobble around. You play like you’re one-legged anyway.’ It’s not going to hurt his lateral quickness, I assure you.”
The Rebels have won two straight games to position themselves for a run at an NCAA Tournament berth. Their resume currently consists of no losses outside of the RPI 50, as well as four Top 100 wins. Texas A&M enters play with an RPI rank of 98.
Burnett said the turnaround can partly be attributed to Brooks. His seizure, which happened in front of the Ole Miss bench, was a scary moment for all involved and put things in perspective for the Rebel players and coaches.
Brooks is doubtful for Texas A&M. Kennedy said Brooks hasn’t been cleared to play, and he’s expected to undergo more tests this week. The training staff has yet to nail down the cause of the seizure, though they suspect it was triggered by dehydration.
“It’s sad to say, but the incident with ‘Sheed kind of gave this team life and rejuvenated us,” Burnett said. “It shouldn’t be that way, but sometimes the grind can get you. It was kind of getting us. But the incident with ‘Sheed kind of rejuvenated us and woke us up. We’re just happy he’s back, and we want to play hard for him and for the rest of the season.”
“The sense that I got was not so much that it was this inspirational moment, it just made us stop thinking about ourselves and stop worrying about how bad we’re dribbling or how bad we’re playing,” Kennedy said. “It forced us to put our energies elsewhere, and it did give us, for lack of a better term, a rallying cry.”