Notes and thoughts from Ole Miss’ 72-71 win over Georgia …
Andy Kennedy was channeling his inner ACC mode after the game.
A former North Carolina State basketball signee, Kennedy twice referenced Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney’s now-trademarked slogan, “Bring Your Own Guts.”
That’s certainly what an improbable comeback win against Georgia looked like … gutsy.
That’s because the Rebels shot just 36.2 percent from the floor. They struggled to find any offensive consistency against the SEC’s No. 1 team in field goal percentage defense.
But the Rebels managed to play their own defense, this after letting Georgia score nearly half a hundred in the first half when the Bulldogs took a 44-35 lead into the break. Georgia led by 15 at one point in the first half.
Ole Miss really struggled with 6-foot-8 sophomore Yante Maten who looked like a totally different player from his freshman season. Maten averaged 5.0 points last year but went into last night’s game averaging 16.5 and did not thing to hurt that average. He gave an All-SEC performance to finish with 20 points and nine rebounds.
The Rebels, though, were able to hold Maten without a field goal for the last 12:49 of the game. It helped the furious comeback that they didn’t have to defend him down the stretch as he fouled out with 3:36 left.
Without Maten Georgia’s best scoring options were its savvy senior guards, Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines. They were big in the Bulldogs’ 33-10 run that helped them erase an eight-point deficit early in the first half. Both of them had two 3-point makes then.
But Ole Miss defense in the second half – Ole Miss guts – wasn’t limited to its work on Maten.
Because the Rebels guarded and rebounded better they kept themselves in good position. The Georgia lead reached 11 after two Gaines free throws with 12:17 left. That was a turning point. The Bulldogs could have spurted ahead and sealed the game, but Ole Miss chipped away. The Rebels got the lead under 10. Then they got it in that 6-7 range.
They kept the game to that point where one or two big shots would make a difference. That was important, because one or two shots were all they were going to get.
The poor shooting percentages are frustrating about this team, but they’re not new. It’s who they are.
It’s a bit of a head-scratcher that Ole Miss could shoot just 36.2 percent – just 33.3 percent in the second half – and beat a team predicted to reach the NCAA tournament. Whether that happens for Georgia remains to be seen, but the Bulldogs have the experience and the inside-outside game to get there.
Ole Miss has been able to shoot well for stretches in games, and the Rebels managed to hit shots when they had to have them last night.
They didn’t shoot particularly well from the free throw line, going just 24-for-35 for 68.6 percent.
This is why it was a gutsy performance. They turned the game into one about individual possessions and won those at key times. They didn’t add up to good looking numbers on a stat sheet, but they hit free throws and field goals and got key rebounds and defensive stops when they had to have them.
Maybe Swinney will reference Kennedy after Monday night’s championship game. We’ll see.
The win capped an amazing two-game opening weekend for the Rebels in their new Pavilion.
Two games don’t make a tradition of tough home-court atmosphere and advantage, but what has occurred in two games of fan attendance, engagement and team play has been quite impressive.
This is an Ole Miss team that looks different than it was supposed to look right now.
Some guys Kennedy thought would be playing larger roles right now – most notably junior college transfer guard Sam Finley – are not playing much.
There aren’t many guys Kennedy can turn to and expect big rewards when he puts them in the game. Maybe Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey becomes that guy. However, he just became eligible at the end of December, and he’s feeling his way around right now.
He’s long and lean. He’s very athletic. He’s talented, and you can tell he knows that by his aggression. I think they’ll become a player, but right now he’s not a big impact guy.
Kennedy started redshirt freshman Marcanvis Hymon last night in place of Tomasz Gielo for a bit of a different look on Maten.
Hymon ended up playing 12 minutes with six points and a rebound. He’s a high-energy guy. If he becomes more productive it will really help this team.
Gielo still played 13 minutes off the bench but didn’t have a great night. The post-grad transfer from Liberty was held scoreless for the first time this season going 0-for-5 from the floor, 0-for-2 from 3-point range.
A poor shooting team needs Gielo to be better, and the body of work says he will. He’d scored in double figures in five of six previous games.
Hopefully Gielo gets his shot falling again. The Rebels will need him if they are going to remain relevant in the SEC.
Kennedy also thought his team had a gutsy performance because of how draining Thursday’s 74-66 win over Alabama was.
It was a big win against a quality opponent, and on that historic opening night of the Pavilion the Rebels trailed by eight at halftime but found a way to win.
Now after two draining wins the Rebels will have a few days off before going back on the SEC road for a late Thursday tip at LSU. You never know what you’re going to get from the talented Tigers, but they’ll be a lot better at home than on the road. It hasn’t quite been a week since LSU dismantled the Kentucky team that dismantled Ole Miss.
At least for now the Rebels can come up for air a bit and celebrate a successful weekend in the nicest arena in the SEC and one of the nicest in college basketball.