Foul Thy Neighbor

Dunks sell tickets. Free throws, however, win games.

Ask Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy, his team in the midst of a 1-5 skid, and he'll say the same.

After opening their SEC schedule 4-2, the Rebels are now 17-8 overall and 5-7 in league contests. Only four regular season games remain, and NCAA Tournament hopes are all but lost.

The struggles are due, in large part, to a substantial discrepancy in foul shots.

In seven league losses, Ole Miss has lost by a combined total of 39 points. But in those losses, the Rebels have been outscored at the free throw line by 78 points (or 11 points per game).

A step further, in four conference losses at home, Ole Miss has been outscored 96-36 in free throws. The total of those home losses has been a combined 19 points, all of which Ole Miss led in the second half.

As Kennedy says, "it's a staggering statistic." May it be an offense settling on jump shots, or a defense with a heavy hand, the Rebels are often losing games against air.

"The moral of the story is we foul a lot and we don't get to the foul line a lot," Kennedy said. "That's a staggering statistic to me. We need to be aggressive, because we need to be able to create opportunities in the open floor. It's the makeup of our team."

The team's downward spiral began when freshman forward Reginald Buckner fell to the floor with an ankle injury in the second half of a win at Auburn. Ole Miss lost its only imposing frontcourt presence. Buckner altered shots with regularity. Opposing teams weren't allowed a free pass in the lane.

Since then, though, the remaining post defenders have developed an unrelenting tendency to foul. DeAundre Cranston has yet to meet a foul he didn't like. Murphy Holloway, all 6-foot-6 of him, is in a constant uphill battle due to size.

"Missing Reggie in the back of that has forced us to reach or slide," said Kennedy. "It's been a huge obstacle for us to overcome. But Reggie may not be back to the old Reggie anytime soon. He seems, unfortunately for us, to keep reinjuring that ankle. We've got to adjust some of the things that we're doing.

"We have to be aggressive without fouling. We're just not doing that."

But with time quickly running out, what more can be done or taught?

Admittedly, Kennedy has said the Rebels "are what we are." Ole Miss is undersized in the frontcourt, and in loss after loss, that weakness has been exposed on an almost nightly basis.

On the offensive end, a guard-oriented team has failed to get to the rim routinely.

Terrico White, easily the most athletic wing, hasn't been the same intimidating presence he was last season. Chris Warren is a volume perimeter shooter. He's also making close to 85 percent from the charity stripe. The problem, however, is he hasn't had many opportunities.

"He's been shooting better than he has his entire life," Kennedy said of Warren. "But he's going to be limited in the amount of times he gets to the line, unless we're ahead and they're fouling at the end. That's when point guards usually get there. Our big wings, though, were recruited here...our whole offense is built around them imposing their athleticism at the basket. We're just not getting it done."

"It's a known fact that we've got to get to the line," Warren added. "We all know the statistics that our opponents, for the most part, always shoot more free throws than us. They miss more free throws than we attempt sometimes. Everybody knows we have to get to the paint and draw some fouls. It's about having the will to do it."

In conference games, the Rebels are middle of the road in defensive field goal percentage. Their assist to turnover ratio is in the upper half. Ole Miss has even been better in rebounding recently.

But 12 SEC games have passed and Ole Miss has attempted more free throws than its opponents only once.

Fouls are the predominant issue.

Florida made 25-of-27 attempts from the line Saturday and won 64-61. Ole Miss, conversely, was 9-of-11. Vanderbilt, in an 82-78 win, connected on 26-of-34 foul shots. Ole Miss was 10-of-18.

Both games were in Oxford, no less.

"I don't know how to answer that," Kennedy said when asked if one-sided officiating was playing a part. "Obviously, they're a lot of calls that you wish would have gone another way, but I'm looking at it through red and blue glasses. What I do know, if something is consistently reappearing, it's not just one ref, two refs or a bad night. It's a problem. For us, it's not just one guy. It's collectively some things we've got to adjust.

"(Fouls) are absolutely killing us."


OM Spirit Top Stories