Ole Miss basketball, fair or not, took a back seat to National Signing Day on Wednesday night. And to think, the Rebels were playing in-state rival Mississippi State.
By: Ben Garrett, OMSpirit.com Staff Writer
The environment inside Tad Smith Coliseum, despite another sellout crowd, was average at best. Ole Miss dominated a woeful Mississippi State team, jumping ahead 17-2 and coasting to a 93-75 win.
The crowd wasn’t really into it. Neither was the team, apparently. Because despite the blowout, head coach Andy Kennedy sat in front of the postgame microphone and expressed his displeasure with the Rebels’ performance.
There was little or no sense of urgency, at least late. He could tell something was missing.
“I thought our approach was pretty good out of the gate,” he said. “I thought we really defended early. Got an early lead. The entire second half, I thought we had it in coast mode.”
With the win, which snapped a two-game losing streak, Ole Miss moved to 18-4 overall and 7-2 in Southeastern Conference games. Up next are back-to-back road games at Missouri and Texas A&M.
Ole Miss handled Missouri in the first meeting between the teams, claiming a 64-49 win at home last month. But the Tigers were without leading scorer Lawrence Bowers. They’ll be motivated.
If the Rebels, who allowed 52 second-half points to Mississippi State, are to leave Columbia with a win, they’ll have to have better energy than tonight, according to Kennedy.
“Missouri’s a good basketball team. They’re playing well at full strength. Looking forward to the challenge,” he said. “They’re an excellent team, so we’re going to have to be on top of our game.
“I thought for about 20-25 minutes, we played reasonable basketball tonight. We’re going to have to do that for 40 minutes to expect to have a chance to compete Saturday.”
Ole Miss has been susceptible to mental lapses this season against bad teams. The Rebels fell behind at Vanderbilt, only to battle back for a 10-point win. A few games later, they were caught in another tight game, this time at Auburn. Again, though, they won.
Senior forward Murphy Holloway was second only to Marshall Henderson in scoring against Mississippi State. He finished with 24 points and eight rebounds. Henderson had 31 on 8 of 18 shooting, including 6 of 14 from 3.
Holloway was asked about the team’s sense of urgency, as suggestion of Kennedy’s. He’s one of three senior leaders, the others being Reginald Buckner and Nick Williams.
They set the example. Holloway said he preaches urgency to his teammates daily.
“I’m a senior, so I’ve got a sense of urgency,” he said. “I can’t speak for the younger guys. They really don’t know what it takes to make it (to the NCAA tournament). I don’t either, ‘cause I’ve never made it. I know it’s hard work.”
A win is a win is a win. Ole Miss lost both of its games last week. Mississippi State was a chance to right the ship. The Bulldogs got no closer than 10 after Ole Miss’ fast start.
With a rigorous 18-game SEC grind, every win is important, not matter how ugly or how lethargic. And wins against lower-tier SEC teams are critical. Ole Miss entered the game with an RPI ranked No. 42. Mississippi State? No. 232.
A loss to Mississippi State or Georgia or Auburn, fair to say, could do significant damage to the Rebels’ postseason resume.
“We had to stop the bleeding,” Kennedy said of the win over Mississippi State. “This is week five of the grind. The first three weeks were good to us; week four was tough on a number of fronts. We needed to start week five good. We go on the road for the next two.”
But to achieve the ultimate goal, an NCAA tournament berth for the first time since 2002, Ole Miss can’t coast – the lesson apparently learned on Wednesday night. A 14-point loss at Florida on Saturday proved as much, too.
“It’s just hard for us, man,” Holloway said. “You see Florida jumped out on us. They didn’t let up. I told some of the guys on the team ‘You see they’re up 20 and they’re still acting like they’re down 20?’ We have to get better as a team.”