Ole Miss men’s basketball received another lights-out shooting performance from junior Matthew Murrell, and the Rebel defense clamped down in the second half against a talented Chattanooga squad, 70-58, at SJB Pavilion on Tuesday night.
The Rebels (3-0) and Mocs (1-2) were caught in a fierce tug-of-war in the first half, which ended up tied 33-33. Ole Miss shot a season-high 53.8 percent in the first half to counter a powerful opening frame from Chattanooga big man Jake Stephens (16 points, eight rebounds), but the Rebel defense held Stephens to just three second half points and the Mocs to 32.1 percent in the back half overall.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen college basketball so even at all levels,” said Ole Miss head coachKermit Davis. “It seems like the players are good at all these mid-major teams. Alcorn goes to Wichita and wins, FAU goes to Florida and wins, (Chattanooga) right there played its tail off tonight. We had to really try to guard in the second half. (Stephens) is one of the best I’ve seen, just how he stretches it, he can rebound it, he can score it.”
The defensive tightening coincided almost exactly with a flourishing second half from Murrell, who dropped 17 of his season-high 25 points in the back frame. Murrell ended the night 9-of-14 from the floor and 6-of-10 from beyond the arc, a new career-high in threes made and the most trifectas by a Rebel since Devontae Shuler hit six against Wichita State on Jan. 2, 2021. Murrell was also one of five Rebels to tie for the team lead with five boards, helping push Ole Miss to a 41-29 edge on the glass.
Murrell, who late last season grew into one of the more polished shooters in the SEC, now has six career 20-point games – all within his last 20 games played. Furthermore, this was Murrell’s fourth career game with five or more threes made, as well as his seventh with four or more, his 12th with three or more, and his 22nd with at least two. Murrell has hit at least one three now in 24 consecutive games.
“I think Matt is as good a guard as anybody in the SEC,” Davis said. “He’s got great experience, he’s been in games. He’s a great guy, he understands basketball. That’s just what experience does. He’s an elite player.”
A 10-0 run that began with a Murrell three-pointer with 12:12 to play ultimately ballooned into a 22-6 run across to the 6:14 mark and helped Ole Miss separate. Included in that stretch were two key back-to-back steals and fastbreak points from Myles Burns, who ended the night with four points, four boards, two steals and one assist.
The Mocs closed that gap back to single digits with 3:59 to play, but another 9-0 Rebel run in response helped keep Chattanooga at bay and put the Rebels ahead for good.
Freshman TJ Caldwell proved valuable for the Rebels off the bench, tying his career-high with 10 points while also nabbing four boards. Fellow freshman Amaree Abram also had a solid night at the starting point guard spot, notching seven points, five rebounds and three assists with no turnovers.
Ole Miss remains at home to host UT Martin (2-2) this Friday (Nov. 18), with tipoff set for 6:30 p.m. CT inside SJB Pavilion and on SEC Network+.
“There’s just good teams everywhere, and you’ve got to be excited about it,” Davis said. “Each win you get in college basketball, you’ve just got to be. It’s great to be 3-0. A lot to work on, but one thing we’ve done in three games is we’ve found a way to play in spurts where we’ve had to play to win games. There’s something to that, and hopefully that will make us tougher and better for Friday night and as the season plays out.”
Courtesy of Ole Miss Sports