Tonight at 7 at Tad Smith, they'll try to learn a little more about themselves and also get their fifth win of the young campaign as Tennessee Tech comes to Oxford for non-conference hoops. The Rebels will play again on Friday night at 7 when Nicholls State takes the Tad Smith court.
Getting to 6-1 with both games at home is expected by most. But the coaches and players know they have to go out and perform and continue to improve to avoid any type of upset this holiday week.
"We have to play two games in three days now, and hopefully we'll continue to get better," UM head coach Andy Kennedy said. "We've worked hard in our preseason to get to play in games, and now they are coming at us pretty fast. Playing games is special, and I try to make sure our guys know that and understand that. You only have so many of them in your life, and we need to make sure we're prepared for each and every one."
Tonight's foe, Tennessee Tech, is 1-1 and split its first two games of the season. The Golden Eagles are coming off a 101-79 loss to Bob Huggins' Kansas State Wildcats on Saturday.
Coach Mike Sutton's Tech squad returns 11 letterwinners and a pair of starters from last year's 19-12 team. Those two starters, guards Belton Rivers and Anthony Fisher, topped TTU in scoring a year ago at 12 points each per game and have raised that number to 17 ppg each this season. Junior forward Amadi McKenzie is adding 13.5 points as the Golden Eagles are averaging 94.5 points per contest.
Ole Miss senior guard Todd Abernethy said the Rebels are ready to try to get back into the win column after losing to the powerful Connecticut Huskies Sunday night.
"Obviously things didn't go as well up there as we would have hoped," said Abernethy of the 2-1 trip to Hartford. "It was fun to play UConn, and I thought we played well at times. Overall there were some good and bad things, and we can only go forward from here. Every game is important, and we have two this week we need to win."
Todd says the Rebels have shown some positives so far.
"We've competed and hung in there, even through tough times like against UConn," he said. "We've won games without everyone playing well and without some of our players available. Just hanging on and winning games and being 4-1 without us at our best and strongest, that to me has been a positive."
Kennedy said the trip to Connecticut was productive because the Rebels got to play games, and live action is important for their improvement.
"And also we went up there with two wins and came back with four. So that's a positive," he said. "I thought with us being in a situation against Fairfield, which was really our first close game of the year, facing that adversity and still winning was a positive for this team.
"And to play three games in three days, 120 minutes of basketball, just to get that experience. And then culminating with a game against UConn, I was proud of our guys for continuing to fight and not quitting and continuing to whittle away despite the fact that we were having some issues inside."
Those issues obviously stem from the fact that junior starting center Dwayne Curtis continues to watch from the sidelines.
"We knew it would be tough without him," Kennedy said. "He's our most experienced front-line guy, and a pretty productive one at that. We're really having a hard time scoring inside, and that makes you so dependent on jump shots. That's a tough way to live."
The stats against UConn in the Rebels' 77-59 loss Sunday night prove Kennedy correct.
"We were 4-for-21 in that game along the frontline," he said. "It's an area we must continue to work at. I'm hopeful we can get better and grow in that area. (Junior center) Jermey Parnell has some experience there, but without Dwayne in there it's tough for him and has changed his role so far this year. The other guys are learning and trying to understand their roles."
Playing time for Curtis is still a couple of weeks away, at least. Another x-ray will be taken this week to make sure his foot continues to heal.
When Abernethy went down with a concussion early in game one of the season and missed all of game two, and when Kenny Williams went out with an ankle sprain late in the first game in the tourney at Connecticut, not to mention Curtis' injury, the Rebel coaches and trainers have had to work overtime.
Williams, the 6-8 junior power forward, said the going has been tough underneath, especially so after his ankle sprain against Fairfield. He played on it in the Rebels' win against Central Arkansas and also in the loss to UConn.
"I couldn't elevate. I couldn't get things done on defense. It was hard to play my game," Williams said. "But it's getting better and hopefully I will be ready (for games this week)."
Williams said the experience of playing games at this level has already helped him, especially against the big frontline of Connecticut.
"That was the biggest challenge I've ever faced," he said. "They were tough. For me coming from junior college, the atmosphere up there alone was just incredible. And these top guys who came out of high school are so good, it shows you what you need to work on and how much improvement you have to make."
Kennedy said the Rebels will continue to mix and match and move ahead.
"We've just played the guys that we've got and will continue to do that," Kennedy said. "We'll try to put them in a position to ultimately be successful. Hopefully they'll settle in and become even more productive.
"After all, this is pretty much a bottom-line business. Right now we're not getting that done quite as much as we need."
Rebels host Tennessee Tech tonight at 7
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