Rebels’ 6-2 start in basketball indicates progress

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Now that final exams are over, Andy Kennedy is learning more about his Ole Miss basketball team.
He’s getting good production from a pretty established rotation of players, and he sees a frontcourt that’s getting better.
“I’d love to be 8-0, but at 6-2, I think we’ve learned a few things about our team,” he said. “It’s two steps forward, one step back. We’re still a work in progress.”
The Rebels are back in action Saturday afternoon at 3 against a defensive-minded East Tennessee State team that won 63-62 at Mississippi State last Saturday.
Earlier this season, the Bucs ended Dayton’s 40-game home win streak – the same Dayton team that won in overtime at Ole Miss following the exit of sophomore forward Reggie Buckner, the SEC’s second-leading shot blocker.
The Bucs reached the NCAA tournament last season, losing 100-71 to Kentucky in the first round.
Currently, East Tennessee is 4-4 with losses to Kentucky, Murray State, South Carolina Upstate and College of Charleston, all on the road.
The Bucs are third in the Atlantic Sun with a rebounding margin of plus-2.2. They are holding opponents to 65.2 points a game and lead the A-Sun in field goal defense at 39.5 percent.
Buckner has blocked 10 shots in his last two games. The shot-blocking has been there since he stepped on campus. Now Kennedy is calling on him for more in other areas, specifically offense.
“He’s scoring the ball much more efficiently. He’s still an adventure at the free throw line, but he’s putting in the time, and I hope eventually he can get over that hurdle,” Kennedy said.
Buckner has hit 10 of his last 13 field goal attempts over the last three games.
He was limited by foul trouble in Monday’s 101-69 win over Mississippi Valley State but managed to go 3 for 4 from the floor with seven points and three rebounds. He still blocked five shots, but fouled out after 14 minutes.
It wasn’t part of Kennedy’s plan, but Buckner’s foul trouble and the quality of the opponent allowed him to get different people in the game and learn more about his team. Guards Will Bogan and Donald Williams were able to get some things done.
Bogan, in a game for the second time this season, three assists and one turnover in 14 minutes. Williams, a junior college transfer, was 2 for 3 from the floor and had two rebounds in seven minutes.
Lately, Kennedy has used senior Zach Graham and newcomers Dundrecous Nelson, Steadman Short and Demarco Cox as his primary reserves.
“I thought we were aggressive (against Valley). We got a lot of guys, minutes, which was a good thing. We got our sixth win, which was a better thing. We’re getting solid play from a number of different guys.”

Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or parrish.alford@djournal,com