By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi State and Ole Miss both are struggling, but right now there is much more at stake for the Rebels.
The Bulldogs (7-15, 2-8 SEC), losers of eight in a row, had their postseason hopes dashed long ago. Ole Miss (18-5, 7-3), on the other hand, has put itself in strong position for an NCAA tournament bid, but the Rebels have been swerving off course of late, losing three of their last four games.
The most recent setback was Saturday’s 98-79 loss at Missouri. Ole Miss is treading dangerously close to the NCAA bubble, and if it wants to make its first NCAA appearance in 11 years, the defensive intensity had better pick up.
“We’re not playing with an awareness, any toughness,” seventh-year coach Andy Kennedy said. “We’re not talking to each other out there.”
In losses to Missouri, Florida and Kentucky, Ole Miss gave up an average of 87.7 points per game. Mizzou shot 47.3 percent from the field and grabbed 22 offensive rebounds.
“We didn’t fight them at all,” Kennedy said. “They wanted the game to be free and easy, and we let them play free and easy.”
Well, the fighting part isn’t entirely accurate. Reginald Buckner was ejected from the game after throwing a punch during a skirmish with Missouri’s Alex Oriakhi.
Ole Miss now must travel to Texas A&M on Wednesday; the Aggies have lost six of their last eight. Because of his ejection, Buckner might be suspended by the SEC for that game.
Bulldogs in freefall
As for MSU, it was overwhelmed by Florida in an 83-58 loss on Saturday as junior guard Jalen Steele sat at home. The Bulldogs’ most experienced player was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
That leaves first-year coach Rick Ray with only six available scholarship players, but low numbers have been a problem from Day 1 with this team. With games against Missouri and LSU this week, it looks as if the Bulldogs’ skid could continue.
But Ray was encouraged by some of the things he saw from his young team in the second half.
“When we get ball movement and work through the ball through the paint, we are a much better offensive team,” he said. “Even though we were down, we kept competing and did some things well.”