By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – While Ole Miss got strong offensive production from its bench against Alabama, setting the tone was about defense – not just effort but also scheme.
After looking at Alabama’s 3-point percentages, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy had the urge to play more zone, but he traded those numbers for the hope that the Rebels would be more aggressive if everybody had a man to guard.
He was rewarded.
Ole Miss held Alabama to 38.5 percent shooting in the first half in building a 37-25 halftime lead. The Rebels extended that lead early into the second half but had to hit free throws down the stretch to secure an 87-83 win.
“I was thinking coming into the game to play a lot more zone based on some body issues that we had up front, and they’ve struggled against the zone,” Kennedy said. “I didn’t want us to come out passive. I wanted us to come out aggressive, so we decided to go man, and it was very effective.”
The Crimson Tide defied its statistics and came close to pulling off an improbable comeback.
An Alabama team that scored only 38 points in losing at Auburn and has routinely scored in the 50s put up 58 points in the second half, 23 in the last three minutes.
The Crimson Tide, shooting just 30.6 percent from 3-point range against the SEC, was 6-for-8 from 3-point range over the last 1 minute, 53 seconds.
Ole Miss guard LaDarius White had visions of the Rebels losing a 19-point lead at home.
“We got scared,” he said.
Ultimately the game’s body of work stood up. Ole Miss was outrebounded by 16 and gave up 23 points off 17 offensive rebounds for Alabama, but the Rebels also scored 22 points off 17 forced turnovers.
Alabama point guard Trevor Releford, the Crimson Tide’s catalyst on offense, averages 15.4 points but was held to three in the first half – shadowed by Jarvis Summers – when Ole Miss took control.
“We were up in passing lanes, not allowing them to reverse the ball. We had very active hands, which allowed us to get some steals and get in the open floor,” Kennedy said.
Holloway – who had four blocked shots – hopes it’s an effort the Rebels (22-8, 11-6 SEC) can learn from going into Saturday’s regular season finale at LSU.
“We should watch how we played defense in the first half on film and get everybody to buy into, ‘We can’t win unless we do that.’ In the second half at the end they made a bunch of hard shots,” Holloway said.
“If we do that, realize what we’ve got to do and play defense, I think we’ll be OK.”