David is a junior broadcast major in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss.
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With Ole Miss’ 64-49 win over Missouri (12-3, 1-1 SEC) on Saturday night, the Rebels (13-2, 2-0 SEC) proved they’re a legitimate contender in the SEC, and at this point, a NCAA Tournament bid that they’ve long coveted is theirs to lose.
It seems each year under head coach Andy Kennedy Ole Miss comes up a win or two short of making it into the NCAA Tournament field with missed opportunities for quality wins on their resume.
Going into Saturday’s contest, the Rebels knew this was that chance, especially for a team who lacked a strong nonconference schedule.
Getting a win was a necessity for Ole Miss, and it appears they took that to heart.
Senior forward Murphy Holloway led the Rebels with 22 points and eight rebounds, but it was the way Ole Miss took down the Tigers that was impressive.
Missouri was without their leading scorer, forward Laurence Bowers, but the Rebels dominated from the opening tip and was never seriously threatened by the Tigers.
The thing that stood out the most was the Rebel defense.
Missouri came into the game averaging 78.9 points per game, but an aggressive Ole Miss defense was able to force 19 turnovers and hold the Tigers to just 2 of 18 from three-point range.
After a sloppy first half, Missouri took better care of the ball to begin the second half until Kennedy shifted his squad into their three-quarters court press that was effective in the Rebels’ win against Tennessee in their SEC opener.
The press proved effective again, forcing the Tigers into more turnovers.
Sophomore point guard Jarvis Summers continued the be aggressive on the offensive end of the court, and he ended the night with 12 points, one assist and just one turnover.
If the Rebels can get production from Summers in the scoring column, it’s just another dimension to this dynamic offense.
Speaking of point guards, freshman Derrick Millinghaus had another good night off the bench, scoring eight points on 2 of 3 shooting from behind the arc.
Another positive note was the way junior guard Marshall Henderson changed effected the offense. It wasn’t the most productive night for Henderson in the points column, but his presence opened up some room for other guys to have easy scores.
Offensively, it wasn’t the best night for Ole Miss, so they have to feel good walking away with a 15-point win.
Outside of Holloway, the Rebels never got into an offensive groove, especially Henderson, who scored 11 points on 4 of 11 shooting.
Senior forward Reginald Buckner also was lost on the offensive end as he ended the night with no points, but he did add 10 rebounds.
Senior guard Nick Williams had a tough night as well with just five points off the bench.
Although that’s not what you want from your veteran players, it’s easy to wonder how good Ole Miss could really be if they were clicking on all cylinders.
Basketball is a funny game, and a slump could come at any time. So, it’s always nice to have multiple options to get the ball in the basket.
What it Means
Ole Miss is 2-0 in the SEC for the first time since the 2005-06 season, when they began conference play with three wins. It is also the best overall start for the Rebels since the 2007-08 season when they started the year 13-1.
As I stated earlier, this win over Missouri puts Ole Miss in a good spot in regards to NCAA Tournament discussion.
However, there is a lot of basketball to be played, and with the SEC being as weak as it is this year, a string of consecutive wins could be erased with one bad loss.
The Rebels will have to take it one game at a time, and Tuesday’s game at Vanderbilt won’t be easy. The Commodores played Kentucky well last week, and Memorial Gymnasium is one of the most difficult places to play in the league.
* Tad Smith Coliseum has been kind to Ole Miss, who is 9-0 at home this season.
* Andy Kennedy has 138 career wins as the Rebels head man, and he is just six wins away from tying B.L. Graham for the most wins in school history.