By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Ole Miss faces another short-handed SEC opponent tonight, but visiting South Carolina still has its most important set of hands.
They belong to point guard Devan Downey.
The No. 23-ranked Rebels will try to bounce back from a disappointing loss at No. 9 Tennessee Saturday in which they led the Volunteers by double-figures in the middle of the second half before falling 71-69 in overtime.
Tipoff against the Gamecocks (11-6, 2-1 SEC) is 8 p.m., and the game will be televised by Comcast Sports Southeast.
Ole Miss (13-4) finds itself 1-2 in SEC play with players trying to find the mental toughness to close games successfully. The Rebels held second-half leads in both of their SEC losses, but turnovers and missed opportunities kept them from winning.
“It is kind of frustrating. We came into SEC play with higher standards than 1-2. We felt we could go 3-0 right now. We’ve been up against Mississippi State and lost. We were up as much as 12 at Tennessee and lost. We’re trying to figure out why we’re giving up leads,” said center Murphy Holloway, an Irmo, S.C., native with close ties to the South Carolina program. “Another team goes on a run, we face adversity, and we don’t do good against that right now. Part of that is being loose with the ball.”
Ole Miss had a season-high 21 turnovers at Tennessee and will face similar ball pressure from the Gamecocks, who lead the SEC with 9.8 steals a game, including 3.2 thefts per contest by Downey.
Downey was the face of South Carolina basketball before the season began, but without post players Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes, he faces increased pressure.
Archie sustained a season-ending knee injury in November while Holmes was booted for repeated rules violations. Archie averaged 10.9 points last year, Holmes 10.8, and each blocked 37 shots.
Downey has carried the Gamecocks, scoring 29 and 33 points in wins over LSU and Auburn and 35 in a loss to Vanderbilt last Saturday.
“It’s no secret that one of the things that helps us the most is that we have a point guard who can keep us in games on both ends of the floor,” Horn said.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy successfully recruited Downey to Cincinnati where the point guard was a star freshman before transferring. Kennedy is 0-2 against Downey, who scored 26 points in the Gamecocks’ 82-71 win over Ole Miss at South Carolina last year.
While Downey’s game has been based on his quickness, his ability to change direction and get to the rim, Kennedy sees a player who has matured into a decision-maker and 3-point shooter as well.
“He’s shooting it the best he’s ever shot. He’s made 3’s at 34 percent, so he’s making about two a game. He’s shooting with great range. In SEC play he’s been ridiculous, averaging 32 or 33 a game and shooting with great freedom,” Kennedy said.