A strong defensive showing and a second-half offensive awakening helped Ole Miss men’s basketball kick off a four-game homestand with a 62-52 win over Middle Tennessee at SJB Pavilion on Wednesday night.
Defense reigned supreme for Ole Miss (7-3), which stymied the Blue Raiders (8-3) to just 34.9 percent shooting overall and a Rebel opponent season-low 11.1 percent clip from beyond the arc. The Rebels were active defensively as well, forcing a total of 17 takeaways that resulted in 20 Rebel points. On the other end, Ole Miss only turned the ball over a season-low eight times to MTSU, while the trio of Nysier Brooks (12 points), Jaemyn Brakefield (10 points) and freshman Daeshun Ruffin (12 points) in his return from injury all finished with double-digit points.
“I thought tonight was good,” said Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis. “Middle Tennessee runs a good offense, they move you and they cut you. I thought for us to limit them to 52 points and they’re averaging 80. They got 87 at Murray State and Murray’s a good defensive team, so I was proud of how we guarded tonight.”
Freshman Daeshun Ruffin made an immediate impact for the Rebels in his return to the court after breaking his right hand in Ole Miss’ season opener against New Orleans. Ruffin led the Rebels in the first half with nine points, ending the night with 12 on 4-of-9 shooting and a 4-of-6 mark from the charity stripe.
“I just wanted to be with my brothers,” Ruffin said. “I know I’ve missed a lot of time and I’ve gone through practice. Me and my (athletic trainer Andrew Beyke), we just took it day by day. Most of all I just wanted to be with my brothers again. I’m close, very close. I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent yet, but I’m very close.”
Despite this effort from Ruffin, the scoreboard remained close through the first 20 minutes, with the Blue Raiders recording four first half blocks alongside seven points from freshman forward Christian Fussell. The Rebels would carry a 27-24 lead into the locker room, needing a spark in the second half.
That spark would come from Luis Rodriguez on both ends of the court for the Rebels, earning career-highs in both blocks (3) and rebounds (8) while also tallying a total of eight points and three steals on the night.
“Don’t let offense affect how we perform on defense. Coach was talking about that this whole week,” Rodriguez said. “The Western Kentucky game, we kind of let not making shots affect how we played defensively. Our mindset tonight was whether shots went in or not to just keep defending and keep guarding. Our biggest thing was just to play defense regardless and don’t let shots affect how we perform defensively.”
Also proving crucial for the Rebels in the second half was graduate transfer Nysier Brooks, who rebounded from a scoreless first half to end up with 12 points, eight rebounds, one block and one assist. At one point, Brooks scored eight of nine Rebel points during a 17-5 Ole Miss run from 16:03 to 11:37, when the Rebels would hit their first double-digit lead of the night.
Sophomore Jaemyn Brakefield also had a solid outing, finishing the night with 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting from beyond the arc.
Head coach Kermit Davis is now 4-0 when coaching against his former team in Middle Tennessee, having defeated the Blue Raiders in each of his seasons at the helm of Ole Miss since his arrival in Oxford in 2018.
Ole Miss is set to continue their homestand this Saturday (Dec. 18), as the Rebels will host Dayton (7-4) on SEC Network with tipoff set for 5:30 p.m. CT at SJB Pavilion.
Courtesy of Ole Miss Sports