Notes and thoughts from a 62-56 Ole Miss win over Tennessee …
The words “special season” are beginning to be tossed about for this group, and I think that’s very possible.
There’s a lot of basketball to be played before getting to the point of accurately applying that label, however.
On characteristic of a special season in when a team wins games that it appears to have no business winning. One of those was last night. Unlike the first half of play in the Rebels’ 92-74 win in Knoxville, the style of officiating with so many fouls called did not favor Ole Miss.
Tennessee came out and dictated tempo, which again did not favor Ole Miss. The Vols were able to do this in part because the Rebels’ top two rebounders — Murphy Holloway and Reggie Buckner — were on the bench in foul trouble. Rebounding was more difficult on both ends, particularly on the offensive end where the Rebels had just two rebounds.
Tennessee shot better from the floor, the free throw line and was plus-11 on the boards for the game. And still lost.
As it has done over the life of what is now an eight-game winning streak, Ole Miss found a way to make timely shots.
Marshall Henderson isn’t one of the great percentage 3-point shooters in the SEC. After an 0-for-4 start last night, he finished 6-for-15 from the arc for 40 percent, his best percentage game in conference play and the first time he’s hit at least 40 percent since going 4-for-6 against Hawaii.
What Henderson has done time and again this year, however, has been to hit big shots through the course of the game even when he’s struggling. He can heat up. And when he doesn’t matter what the opposing players have said through the week. There will be good defenders in the SEC. Tennessee has good defenders. But it’s hard to shadow a guy for 40 minutes and keep him from getting decent looks especially when his teammates are intent on helping him get good looks.
Nick Williams again came through with timely offense last night as he’s done many times. Holloway’s numbers — 8 points, 6 rebounds — were indicative of the minutes he spent on the bench with foul trouble in the first half.
None of the three most important post players in the game — Holloway, Buckner and Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes — played more than 27 minutes. Stokes and Buckner played 27, Holloway 25. Stokes and Holloway eventually fouled out.
The Rebels got nothing out of LaDarius White offensively, which was a disappointment given the improvement he’d shown in the last couple of games.
When Andy Kennedy had to reach deep into his bench with Buckner and Holloway sitting beside him in the first half, freshman Terry Brutus didn’t hurt the cause. He finished with two rebounds in nine minutes, minutes that would have gone to Demarco Cox had Cox been healthy. The Rebels could have used Cox in last night’s physical pace and slower tempo.
The Rebels played well enough defensively (21 turnovers forced) and shot the ball well enough in the second half (53.8 percent) to win the game.
I don’t think they can shoot 17.4 percent from the floor in either half and win Tuesday night at home against Kentucky. Kentucky is a fraction of what it was last year, but the Wildcats are still talented and will have more scorers than Tennessee.
Before the Rebels get to that game they will go for a bit of history Saturday night at Auburn. Ole Miss has never started SEC play 6-0. It also has never won at Auburn’s new arena, although the building is only now in its third season.
There have been many more opportunities for a 6-0 SEC start. Ole Miss has a chance to make that happen this weekend.