By Jeff Eubanks/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The Ole Miss Rebels will celebrate Senior Night tonight, but all eyes will be on a freshman.
The Rebels entertain the LSU Tigers at Tad Smith Coliseum for their regular-season home finale. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m., and the game will be nationally televised on ESPN.
Ole Miss (19-9 overall, 7-7 SEC) will honor its lone senior, junior college transfer DeAundre Cranston, before the game. The Rebels must win tonight’s game and Saturday’s matchup with Arkansas to ensure at least a No. 2 seed in the SEC Western Division, which would give them a bye in the first round of the SEC Tournament in Nashville next week.
The Rebels are looking to have a healthy Reginald Buckner back in the lineup. Buckner, a 6-foot-8 freshman post player who holds the Rebels’ freshman block record with 48 this season, has been hampered due to an ankle injury suffered in an 84-74 win at Auburn on Jan. 28.
Buckner’s presence on or off the floor definitely has been noticed, as the Rebels have gone 6-4 in SEC games when he is in the lineup versus 1-3 when he is not.
“He’s getting there. He is not 100 percent yet,” said Rebels’ coach Andy Kennedy. “He’s still got a little bit of a limp, and you don’t know if that is psychological or just getting used to striking that foot again and trusting it. He’s had two good days. He was as active today as he’s been probably since the injury. I think he is coming around, getting more confident.”
Buckner said Wednesday that he felt like that he was at about 90 percent and will likely draw the matchup with Tigers’ 6-foot-7 senior forward Tasmin Mitchell. Mitchell scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a 73-63 loss to the Rebels Jan. 23 in Baton Rouge, the Rebels first win at LSU since 2003.
“If we basically hold Tasmin down, not saying the other guys aren’t capable of getting 20 (points), but if we hold Tasmin down it will be a lot easier,” Buckner said on what was key in order for the Rebels to win. “Deny him from the ball. That is what I think I’m going to do. Deny him from the ball and use my length.”
LSU: ‘Very competitive’
LSU (10-18, 1-13) recorded its first SEC win Feb. 24, knocking off then-SEC West leader Arkansas 65-54 at home. The Tigers fell to Auburn 74-59 on Saturday.
“They’re playing very competitive. The pieces haven’t changed. It’s still about Tasmin and Bo Spencer, the two guys that were part of last year’s championship-level team,” Kennedy said. “They had the good win against Arkansas. They came very close against Mississippi State, lost on a last-second shot. They’ve been very competitive in all their games.
“In the situation that we’re in I assure you we have no luxury of looking to the next game or even looking big picture. We’re in the final stretch where we’ve really got to focus on making sure we’re ready to go at full strength.”