By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Martavious Newby, the high-energy guy for Ole Miss, was forced to bottle up his energy for six games.
So he watched. From the bench he saw something that has hindered the Rebels who have gone 2-4 in his absence and lost again Tuesday when Newby played a surprise return against No. 18 Kentucky.
“The only thing I saw was, we just weren’t rebounding and playing defense as hard as we should,” said Newby, a 6-foot-3 guard, who had a productive nine minutes against the Wildcats with contributions that didn’t all show up in the box score.
He hopes to make an impact this morning against No. 2 Florida. The tipoff is set for 11 at Tad Smith. The game is televised by CBS, and an upset by Ole Miss would rekindle fading hopes for an NCAA tournament run.
Florida has won a school-record 18-straight games and is in position to claim the No. 1 spot on the polls with a win since top-ranked Syracuse lost its first game earlier this week.
The Gators (24-2, 13-0 SEC) lead the league in scoring defense (58.3 ppg) and are third in rebounding margin (plus-5.8).
“We weren’t getting rebounds. When the other team made runs, our players were getting down. They needed that person to reconnect them so we could get our edge back,” Newby said.
Newby’s game isn’t one of a dominant rebounder but it is one that leads to more possessions for Ole Miss (16-10, 7-6) by getting hands in the passing lanes, challenging the ball and generally just making opponents play faster than they’d like.
The Rebels have lost five of their last seven after a 6-2 SEC start, a slide that has Kennedy calling for more toughness from his players.
He saw that when Newby was in the game against Kentucky.
“There was a noticeable difference, just the ability to fight,” Kennedy said. “You’re not going to win every game or make every shot. Sometimes you can do everything you’re supposed to and still come up short, but you just want to see guys fight.”
There isn’t a statistical category for using your quickness with help defense to get both hands on the ball while an opponent is dribbling through the lane and focused on your teammate.
That was one of Newby’s plays, resulting in a tie ball, in the second half against Kentucky.
He entered the game with 9 minutes, eight seconds left and never came out.
“I thought he brought us great energy, which he normally does. He kept balls alive. He did a good job of fighting, giving us extra possessions, giving us a chance.”