A great win to jump starts the SEC schedule
David is a junior broadcast journalism major in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss.
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Ole Miss can be a NCAA Tournament team.
It won’t be easy, but the potential is there. The Rebels’ 92-74 win on the road at Tennessee Wednesday night proved just that.
Ole Miss had struggled in each of their previous contests away from Tad Smith Coliseum, so there was reason to doubt that the Rebels would get off to a 1-0 start in SEC play.
Head coach Andy Kennedy and his squad silenced those critics taking control of their league opener from the start and never letting up. Ole Miss used a 12-0 run to take a 14-6 lead, and they never looked back.
An eight-point halftime lead turned into more of the same in the second half as each time Tennessee cut into the deficit, the Rebels responded with a clutch basket of their own.
It truly was a complete performance from Kennedy’s team.
Junior guard Marshall Henderson didn’t have his best night shooting the ball, finishing just 3 of 12 from behind the arc, but the Hurst, Texas native made them when they counted, finishing the game with a career-high 32 points due to his ability to take the ball to the rim and get to the free throw line.
Henderson, who seems to be working on his shot selection the past two games, was 5 of 7 on two-point attempts and a team-leading 13 of 14 from the charity stripe.
Speaking of free throws, an Ole Miss team that has struggled from the line all season was a whopping 38 of 44 from the charity stripe (no that’s not a typo), and to top that, senior forwards Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner, who both shoot around 50 percent from the free throw line, went a combined 14 of 17.
Holloway was an energy booster in the first half, and he finished the game with 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Buckner had 13 points and 15 rebounds of his own.
Another bright spot for the Rebels was sophomore point guard Jarvis Summers.
The 6-foot-3, 184-pound Summers sparked the offense in the second half, scoring the first nine points of the period. Summers had 16 points on the night, and if he can pick up the scoring on a consistent basis, it makes it that much harder for opposing defenses to keep Ole Miss off the scoreboard.
There weren’t many things to be upset with in an 18-point win on the road in the SEC, but there’s always room for improvement.
The first thing is defense.
When Ole Miss put pressure on Tennessee, it got the Volunteers out of their preferred style of play, and the Rebels had some easy buckets off the pressure.
However, it also allowed Tennessee to get easy, uncontested layups if they were able to break the press and take the ball to the rim.
How do you stop that?
It’s very difficult and takes an extremely disciplined and athletic team, but Kennedy and the Rebels have to find a way to put pressure on the opposing team in a way where they can get back in their half court defense before a team is putting the ball through the hoop.
Offensively, there is still plenty of room for Ole Miss to improve.
They finished just 4 of 15 from three-point range and missed their first 11 attempts.
There were also periods of a few minutes during the game that the Ole Miss offense was extremely inefficient, taking the first shot they saw instead of looking for the best shot.
What It Means
Ole Miss starts 1-0 in conference play for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
With two games against Missouri, a home matchup with Kentucky and a road game at Florida left in the first half of the SEC schedule, getting in a 0-1 hole would’ve been tough to overcome.
The Rebels are trying to get to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Kennedy’s tenure in Oxford. So, a lackluster nonconference schedule leaves Ole Miss needing an excellent season in the conference to get into the big dance, and an impressive win at Tennessee is a good way to start.