By Adam Brown
Ole Miss men’s basketball steps outside of conference play to take on Oklahoma State Cowboys in the annual SEC-Big 12 Challenge on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN2.
Ole Miss (9-11, 1-7 SEC) is coming off of an 89-77 loss to Missouri on Tuesday night. The Rebels were led in the game by Daeshun Ruffin with 18 points.
Early in the game against Missouri, Myles Burns got Ole Miss going with two massive dunks that gave them a 9-5 advantage over the Tigers.
The Rebels defense currently averages 66.6 points allowed per game, only letting their opponents top 70 points four times this year. A major part of their defensive identity has been enforcing the paint, as Ole Miss ranks 28th in the country and fourth in the SEC in blocks per game (4.8).
Beginning with a win over UT Arlington, Oklahoma State suffered an early loss in their second game 61-60 by the hands of Southern Illinois. Following a win over Oakland, the Cowboys fell to UCF in overtime before defeating DePaul, Tulsa, and Prairie View A&M. Their games prior to beginning conference play concluded with wins over Sam Houston, Wichita State, and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and losses to Connecticut, and Virginia Tech. Oklahoma State has gone 3-5 to begin their Big 12 schedule, defeating West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Iowa State, and falling to Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, and to Texas twice.
The leaders on offense for the Cowboys this year have been Bryce Thompson and Kalib Boone. Pacing the team in points per game, Thompson averages 11.3 per contest, and is second on the team in assists with 44. Boone has become a key member of the Oklahoma State squad as of late, averaging 11.0 points per game on the season, but 15.4 over his last five and 13.1 in conference play. In back-to-back key wins over Baylor and Iowa State, Boone scored a combined 28 points.
The strength of the Oklahoma State team this season has been their defense, as they rank sixth in the country in field goal percentage defense, holding teams to 38.0% shooting. Similar to Ole Miss, much of their defensive identity has revolved around defending the paint, as they rank 12th in the NCAA and lead the Big 12 in blocks per game, averaging 5.6 per contest. They are led down low by Moussa Cisse, who leads the Big 12 in both blocks (39) and blocks per game (2.44).
The two programs have met only three times before and only once in the last 70 years, with the Cowboys winning all three matchups. Most recently, Ole Miss and Oklahoma St. battelled at the 2019 NIT Tip-Off held in Brooklyn, N.Y. in the Barclays Center, where the Rebels fell 78-37. Prior to their game on November 29 in 2019, the schools had not seen each other on the court since a game held in Oklahoma City, Okla. on December 28, 1953, where the Cowboys won 59-42. Four years earlier, the two matched up for the first time on January 15, 1948 in Memphis, Tenn., with Oklahoma State defeating Ole Miss 52-34.