Small step forward, long way to go
By: David Collier
The Ole Miss men’s basketball team got a 73-70 win over Loyola Marymount on the road Wednesday night to improve to 8-1 on the year, but it wasn’t pretty.
A win is a win, however, so you take it and move on. But in the Rebels’ nine games this season, there’s been some glaring weaknesses.
First and foremost, this team has to learn how to play on the road.
Ole Miss is hoping to get over the proverbial hump this season and take part in March Madness for the first time since 2001. Some even say that it’s NCAA Tournament or bust this year for Rebel head coach Andy Kennedy.
Is that fair? Yes and no.
There are arguments to both sides. But what is fair is that Ole Miss has to learn how to play away from home to have any shot at seeing their name on the right side of the bubble come March.
So far, Ole Miss has played seven games at home and two on the road. In those seven contests inside Tad Smith Coliseum, the Rebels have played well and won by significantly large margins. Away from Oxford, it’s been a different story. They lost a close game to Middle Tennessee State, 65-62, and won Wednesday night at Loyola Marymount.
Although they came out on top Wednesday, it’s easy to see a few easy fixes that would allow the Rebel faithful to breathe a little easier towards the end of the game.
First, there’s the turnover issues. When Ole Miss has the ball with a chance to extend a lead and take control of the game, they turn it over without even putting up a shot far to often.
Second, the Rebels have to knock down free throws in crunch time, especially Marshall Henderson. Kennedy signed Henderson to fill the void that was missing a season ago. Yes, he may take too many contested three-point attempts and shoot Ole Miss of games every now and then, but Kennedy and Rebel fans can live with that because he will make his fair share, also.
What they can’t live with is missed freebies. When Henderson is at the free throw line with a chance to ice the game, he has to do it.
In the first half Wednesday, Ole Miss was a perfect 7-for-7 at the charity stripe. However, the second half saw the Rebels shoot a measly 2-for-8, including three missed attempts from Henderson.
Third, Ole Miss has to step it up defensively. The Rebels claimed an 11-point halftime lead, and they came out in the second half scoring almost at will against the Lions.
The Rebels were allowing Loyola Marymount to trade baskets during that time with several easy buckets. If they play high intensity defense to open the half, Ole Miss may have very well controlled the game from that point on.
With those three small fixes, this team really does have a chance to play at a high level away from home and win some games. If they don’t, they can pretty much kiss a NCAA Tournament bid goodbye.
Follow David on Twitter @DavidLCollier.
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