By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Ole Miss and Auburn, the No. 7 and No. 10 seeds in this week’s SEC tournament, expect no surprises when play begins Thursday at the New Orleans Arena.
The teams split their regular season games, each winning at home. The Rebels came from behind in both games but were able to close the deal only once.
“When you have this small window, no coach is going to try to reinvent what they do,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said.
The Rebels (18-12, 8-8) rallied from 12 back in the second half at Auburn before losing 69-68 in double overtime. In Oxford, they were 11 points back with 15 minutes, 30 seconds to play when Murphy Holloway went on a tear with 12 straight points. He finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Ole Miss won 61-54.
Ole Miss enters the league tournament hopeful of grabbing the attention of the NCAA tournament selection committee. The Rebels have won three straight and were fueled by defense and careful handling of the basketball in a 60-51 win over Alabama.
Like Barbee, Kennedy says no surprises are in store for the tournament.
“At this stage of the season you are what you are,” he said.
Perhaps, but there will be a slightly different look from Auburn and the possibility of a different look from Ole Miss.
The Tigers (15-15, 5-11) will be without suspended guard Varez Ward.
Kennedy on Monday did not address the future of guard Jelan Kendrick, his top reserve, who apparently walked out of the gym during warm-ups Saturday only to appear on the bench after the game started.
“I’ve not had the opportunity to meet with Jelan, so that’s still pending,” said Kennedy, adding that he intended to meet with Kendrick later Monday.
Ward, averaging 9.0 points a game, is Auburn’s third-leading scorer. He hasn’t been very effective against the Rebels, going 3 for 20 from the floor, 1 for 7 from 3-point range for 14 points over the two games.
Kendrick is 3 for 13 from the floor with eight points and seven assists against Auburn.
Says Barbee: “Their size presents a challenge for us, their size, athleticism and versatility, and the way they use that. They’re one of the best rebounding teams in the Southeastern Conference, and a big way they manufacture points is off the backboard.”
Ole Miss had a 49-39 rebounding edge in defeat in the first game. In the second, Auburn was better on the glass – a draw at 33 rebounds each – but lost by seven.
Kennedy praised Auburn’s Kenny Gabriel (12.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg) as an “all-league caliber” player and guard Frankie Sullivan (12.6 ppg) as one of the most explosive scorers in the league.
“They have size and physicality at the rim, and they hold their own on the glass. A bounce here, a bounce there, and they pick up a few more wins. We know this will be a big challenge for us,” Kennedy said.