It's exam week at Ole Miss, and the men's basketball team shuffles its schedule for study time, finals time, and practice time.
This time of year, especially beginning with the final day of semester tests Friday, the basketball team becomes a world unto itself as most students leave for the holidays, but coaches and players remain on campus to continue their season.
A busy lineup of games before Christmas Day begins for Ole Miss this weekend as the Rebels play Memphis Saturday at 12 noon at the FedEx Forum, the new Beale Street area home of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies, which is also the new homecourt of the Tigers. The game begins at 12 noon because the Griz host the Detroit Pistons at 7 p.m.
In addition to the lunchtime clash in Memphis Saturday, the Rebels will host four games through Dec. 21 – three in Oxford and one in Tupelo.
On Mon., Dec. 13, Nicholls State comes to Oxford, while on Wed., Dec. 15 it's Troy here followed by Louisiana-Monroe at 2 p.m. on Sat., Dec. 18.
On Tues., Dec. 21, the Rebels have an 8:15 p.m. tipoff in Tupelo against Tennessee-Martin following the Lady Rebels vs. Clemson game which begins at 6 p.m.
The Rebels are now 2-4 after two consecutive close losses – at Arkansas State 70-68 and at home against Florida State 69-64.
Coach John Calipari's Memphis Tigers, 5-3 on the year, are coming of a 70-51 loss to Pittsburgh Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Ole Miss Coach Rod Barnes says his Rebels have had opportunities to have a better record to this point, but it hasn't quite worked out that way.
"We had our chances the past two games, but it didn't happen for us," Barnes said. "We'll keep working. We have to get better and we're working this week to get better. We're disappointed because we felt we could win those games and we didn't pull them off when we had opportunities. It's my job as coach to keep these guys fighting and putting them in position to win. We feel we'll continue to get better."
Rod says the team also continues to need someone - or two or three – to step up and have a big game every game. He's had yet to find that some games.
"We really don't have any one particular guy this year who we consider a superstar guy or a guy we're just running plays for," he said. "We're a team and we play it that way. We've had several different guys get great looks (at the end of the last two games), and they are just not getting the shots to go down. Right now that's the difference. Those shots fall and we win (and are 4-2 on the season)."
Rod says he still believes this year's team is different – in a positive way – from last year's.
"These kids aren't phased, and they will come back to work," he said. "Even in games, I can feel a difference. In games last season I could feel games getting away and there was little I could do. Against Florida State, they went up 16 points but our kids stayed positive and kept believing, and I feel that's the reason we got back in the game.
"At Arkansas State we got off to a good start and came close. Against Florida State we got off to a slow start and came close. We just need to keep working to get over the hump, get a win, and we'll be fine."
Senior guard Justin Johnson agrees with his coach.
"We're still fighting to win," Johnson said. "It's always disappointing to lose any games, especially close ones. But you have to take from them what you can and learn from them. You take the mistakes you made and try to correct them, whether it's boxing out or closing out on a jump shot or keeping your man from scoring. You just keep working and trying to get better, as individual players and as a team."
Johnson said the Rebs have taken any positives they could from the recent losses.
"Certainly the loss at Arkansas State was tough, but that type game in front of that type crowd will help us on the road in the SEC," Johnson said (ASU students, players, and fans stormed the court after beating Ole Miss). "Playing an ACC school like Florida State means we will also learn from that game because of the competition we have faced."
The competition turns up a notch Saturday, even though the Tigers are 5-3. The Rebels and Tigers have played only one mutual foe – Arkansas State. Memphis beat the Indians 79-75 in a close encounter at the FedEx Forum, while the Rebs lost by two in Jonesboro, Ark., as mentioned earlier.
The Tigers have beaten Savannah State, George Mason, St. Mary's, and Purdue, in addition to Arkansas State. Their losses, along with the one to Pitt, were to Maryland and Syracuse.
Memphis returns four starters from last season's 22-8 squad that lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, including junior forward Rodney Carney, who is averaging 19 points and six rebounds per game, and sophomore forward Sean Banks, who is averaging 17 points and seven rebounds per contest.
After four games, the Rebels are led by senior center Tommie Eddie, who is scoring 11.2 points per game and is pulling down 4.7 rebounds.
Junior forward Londrick Nolen is scoring 11 points a game and rebounding at a 4.5 per game clip.
Sophomore guard Todd Abernethy has a 9.2 points per game average with 3.8 rebounds and is the team's assist leader with 17 to this point.
Johnson is next in the scoring department with nine points per game and is the team's leader in 3-point shooting with 12 treys in six contests.
The Rebels are averaging 62.5 points per game so far this season – basically 10 points below the average Rod wants them to score. He has said all along that if the Rebels can score 72 points a contest, they stand a great chance to win.
Obviously the last two games - both losses - have proven him correct. As it stands now, had they scored 72 in each, they'd be 4-2.
The Rebels are allowing 64.8 points per game so far this season.
Ole Miss is shooting 43 percent from the floor, while their opponents are at 51 percent. From 3-point range, the Rebs are making 39 percent of their shots to 47 percent for their foes.
Ole Miss is averaging 14 assists a game and 13 turnovers. From the free throw line, Ole Miss is shooting 68 percent.
For tickets to the game in Memphis, contact either the University of Memphis ticket office or the FedEx Forum ticket office. No tickets are available in Oxford.
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