By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
For Ole Miss, the SEC basketball season reaches its midway point on Saturday.
The Rebels are off until then, time for a little healing, a little tweaking, a lot of focus on the next opponent.
Alabama is the next opponent and is also off until Saturday, by the way.
Seven games into conference play, the Rebels are beginning to develop an offensive personality.
It hasn’t been easy to light up the scoreboard after Chris Warren, nor was ease expected. The offense revolved around the Rebels’ pint-sized 3-point machine for most of his four years, and he finished as the third-leading scorer in program history.
Lost in the Warren discussion sometimes is that the Rebels also had to replace Zach Graham, another 1,000-point scorer. Graham finished with 1,274 points, No. 18 on the career list and ahead of such names as Dwayne Curtis, Rod Barnes and Rahim Lockhart.
The Rebels have won games this season because of defense and rebounding, and their front line of Murphy Holloway, Reggie Buckner and Terrance Henry is getting rave reviews from opposing coaches.
Their plus-9.9 rebounding margin against SEC teams leads the league and is way out in front of the second team, Tennessee at plus-5.5.
That’s good news for Ole Miss.
The better news is that recently the offense has evolved. After Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy spent late December and early January pleading for someone to take ownership, two players have – Terrance Henry and Nick Williams.
Henry has been the obvious choice to score from the beginning of the season. He had 19 points against Marquette, 26 against Southern Miss – quality teams – but had not been able to string together big games.
Now, after spreading 20 points across three games, Henry is on a run of four-straight double-figure performances in which he’s averaging 18 points.
His South Carolina game was impressive, because he didn’t let the frustration of the Gamecocks’ defense – which limited him to six shots and forced seven turnovers – beat him.
He was efficient at the free throw line (6-for-6) and set his feet and drilled the biggest shot of the game, a wide open 3-pionter form the corner with 18 seconds left, the decisive blow in a 66-62 Rebels’ win.
Williams is on a nice run too, having seen his scoring average increase almost two points over the last five games. He had only one double-figure scoring game in the SEC last season. This season he’s reached double figures in the last five games.
It hasn’t always been pretty, and Williams is at his best when the mid-range game is clicking.
Nevertheless, the confidence to keep shooting, the understanding that this team needs him to score, has helped him hit big shots like the 3-pointer to force overtime at Auburn and the two 3-pointers to keep the Gamecocks at arm’s length last Saturday.
There’s a lot of basketball still to be played, much of it against upper echelon SEC teams.
Defense and rebounding won’t be enough to keep winning.
The ability to manufacture offense when things are going well, the instinct to clamp down and finish when the other guys are teetering on the edge, will be important in the next few weeks.
After a slow start in the scoring column the Rebels may be developing a body of work and the confidence necessary to keep winning.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at Djournal.com.