ATHENS, Ga. – Different people have different theories about the significance of the remainder of this week for Ole Miss basketball.
The Rebels, ranked No. 21 in the latest AP Top 25, were picked as a contender in the SEC West. After dropping the league opener at home Saturday, the Rebels must pick up a road win against at least one of two improving Eastern Division opponents to avoid an 0-3 conference start.
The two-game swing begins tonight at Georgia with a 7 p.m., start at Stegeman Coliseum, an SEC Network telecast.
The Rebels (12-3, 0-1 SEC) play at No. 9 Tennessee on Saturday, a week after the Vols put some internal strife behind them and upset No. 1 Kansas.
“I don’t want to say must-win ever. Kids have enough pressure. There is no such thing, but obviously, by dropping one at home you want to make up for that,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said.
Privately his players hear a different message.
“It’s important to get a split, but we want to win both. We can’t start out 0-2. Coach says it’s the Super Bowl,” center Murphy Holloway says.
Georgia (8-6, 0-1) enters tonight’s game with an average body of work but an impressive last two games. The Bulldogs defeated then-No. 20 Georgia Tech 73-66 at home last week, then led at No. 3 Kentucky much of the game before losing 76-68.
Georgia is led by sophomore Trey Thompkins, an athletic 6-foot-10 forward, with 16.3 points and 8.4 rebounds.
It’s different style of Bulldog for Ole Miss. Mississippi State, which defeated the Rebels 80-75, leads the SEC in 3-point shooting. Georgia has made fewer 3-pointers than any SEC team but is thicker in the frontcourt. Four key players go 240 pounds or better, two of them more than 260.
Holloway, at 6-7 230, will be a bit undersized. That hasn’t often stopped his productivity, but he’s coming off one of his least effective outings as a starter with no points and only one rebound in 15 minutes against MSU.
While Holloway was a non-factor, Terrance Henry turned in a solid 19 minutes with 12 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots.
“I wasn’t playing good, and coach did his job and sat me down,” Holloway said. “Terrance was doing good, so you roll with it. I have to go back to being the old Murphy that y’all have seen, not worrying about scoring or getting a play run for me but getting rebounds and doing other things.”
Georgia is fourth in the SEC in rebound margin at plus-3.2, second in defensive rebounds at 32.1.
Ole Miss has been out-rebounded in each of its three losses, the closest margin at minus-7 against MSU.
The continued emergence of Henry is a pleasant development for Kennedy, but Georgia’s beefier bigs could be more problematic for a 200-pound center.
“Physically he still gets a little overpowered. This game will be a tougher matchup for him because he’ll be outweighed 50-60 pounds. He has to use that to his advantage as Georgia will try to use it to theirs,” Kennedy said.
Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal