Rebels look to change fortunes against Blue Raiders

Former Tupelo resident Kermit Davis Jr. will lead Middle Tennessee against Ole Miss today. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

Former Tupelo resident Kermit Davis Jr. will lead Middle Tennessee against Ole Miss today. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

By Parrish Alford

Daily Journal

OXFORD – Andy Kennedy remembers a lot about Middle Tennessee State basketball over the last several years. He just doesn’t remember a win.

He’s 0-for-2 against the Blue Raiders, who have risen to mid-major prominence under Kermit Davis Jr., a former Tupelo resident and son of one-time Mississippi State coach Kermit Davis Sr.

The two regional opponents have played only six times, but Ole Miss hasn’t won against Middle Tennessee since 1963.

Kennedy and the Rebels get another shot today at 4 at Tad Smith Coliseum. The game will be televised by CSS.

“I remember two years ago, which seems like a lifetime ago, we lost in Southaven. The thing I remember the most is Murphy Holloway went down with an ankle injury,” Kennedy said. “No one in our locker room has beaten them. That’s certainly been mentioned a few times the last couple of days.”

The Blue Raiders, now members of Conference USA, won Sun Belt championships in three of the last four seasons.

They were 19-1 in Sun Belt play a year ago. They reached the NCAA playoffs “First Four” only to lose in Dayton to St. Mary’s by 13 points.

Davis began this season as the winningest coach in Sun Belt history with 208 wins, all at Middle, where he’s 215-141 in his 12th season.

Senior forward Shawn Jones leads the Blue Raiders with 14.2 points and 7.6 rebounds a game.

He had seven points, six rebounds and three turnovers in 30 minutes as the Rebels lost 65-62 in Murfreesboro last year.

Backup guard Kerry Hammonds hit a baseline jumper with 40 seconds left to break a 59-59 tie.

Hammonds is starting this season and averaging 12.4 points.

“They did lose a couple of pieces in their backcourt, guys who were staples in their program, but they’ve still got veterans, and they’re off to a 7-2 start, so they haven’t missed a beat,” Kennedy said.

While many pieces are back, some new ones are leaving. Two underclassman guards have left Middle’s program within the last month.

Kennedy hopes to see a better defensive showing from his team than on Sunday when then-No. 13 Oregon shot 61.1 percent from 3-point range in a 115-105 overtime win.

“We got into a free flow and then just felt as though we were going to outscore them, and then we could never get stops,” Kennedy said. “They got in such an offensive rhythm at the end of the game that we could never get stops, and that’s something that this team cannot afford to do against high level teams.”

parrish.alford@journalinc.com