By Adam Brown
Ole Miss men’s basketball team is headed to Atlanta, Georgia to take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers as part of Holiday Hoopsgiving 2021. Tipoff is set for Saturday at 7:30 p.m. inside the State Farm Arena and can be seen on SEC Network.
Ole Miss (6-2) is coming off of a 67-63 victory over No. 18 Memphis at home. Senior Jarkel Joiner led the team with 20 points as his teammate Matthew Murrel had 19 points.
Joiner and Murrel were 40 percent shooting, five threes made and a 14-of-17 mark from the free-throw line. Joiner was clutch every time his number was called, ending the day with 20 points and a season-high in both rebounds (8) and steals (5) – as well as a near-perfect 7-of-8 clip from the free-throw line.
With the victory over Memphis, Ole Miss now has four consecutive Top-25 wins for just the second time in school history. The other such occurrence came across the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons, when Ole Miss ripped off four in a row against No. 6 Florida on Feb. 16, 2002 (68-51), No. 6 Alabama on March 3, 2002 (84-56), at No. 23 LSU the following season on Jan. 18, 2003 (67-57), and three days later vs. No. 15 Alabama on Jan. 21, 2003 (76-57). The current streak has come against No. 10 Tennessee on Feb. 2, 2021 (52-50), No. 10 Missouri on Feb. 10, 2021 (80-59) and at No. 24 Missouri.
Western Kentucky has won four of its last five after dropping a competitive three-game stretch to Minnesota (73-69), South Carolina (75-64) and No. 11 Memphis (74-62) from Nov. 12-19. The Hilltoppers’ average margin of defeat in those three losses was within single digits, and they responded by winning their next four by an average spread of 29 points. WKU has been playing disciplined basketball thus far, currently leading C-USA and ranking second in the NCAA in fewest fouls per game at 12.7 per contest. Which, makes their NCAA 10th-ranked blocks per game average of 6.3 even more impressive. WKU’s defensive prowess extends elsewhere, forcing the NCAA’s 28th most turnovers per game (17.8) and collecting the nation’s 29th-most steals per game (9.7). The Hilltoppers also lead C-USA in shooting at a 47.5 percent season clip.
Jarius Hamilton leads WKU at 17.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while also shooting 51.4 percent overall and 35.1 percent from beyond the arc. Other Hilltoppers averaging double-digits include Dayvlon McKnight (15.2 PPG), Camron Justice (12.9 PPG) and Luke Frampton (10.0 PPG). Four different Hilltoppers have hit 12 or more threes this season, led by a 19-of-59 (.322) clip from Frampton. Jamarion Sharp ranks second in the NCAA in blocks per game (4.7), and is one of four players this season to have recorded a triple-double, notching a 10-point, 12-rebound and 10-block performance vs. Alabama A&M on Nov. 24.
When the ball is tipped up it will be the third meeting all-time between the two programs and the first neutral-site game. Ole Miss and WKU last met in 2014, with the Hilltoppers edging out the Rebels, 81-74, in Oxford. The year prior, Ole Miss emerged victorious at WKU, 79-74.