By Parrish Alford | NEMS Daily Journal
SOUTHAVEN – Jelan Kendrick’s role increased dramatically on Wednesday night, and it could increase much sooner than he might have anticipated.
Ole Miss turned the ball over 21 times and lost 68-56 to Sun Belt Conference member Middle Tennessee State before a pro-Ole Miss crowd at the DeSoto Civic Center.
The Blue Raiders took control after an injury to Murphy Holloway and grabbed a 56-44 lead with 5 minutes, 34 seconds to play.
Middle led 42-41 when Holloway went down at the 10:09 mark.
It was the second straight loss for the Rebels (9-3), who won nine of their first 10 games. Ole Miss lost 86-82 at Southern Miss last Saturday.
They lost more than the game this time.
Holloway, a junior forward and the the third-leading rebounder in the SEC at 9.5 per game, was helped to the bench with an ankle injury after a collision going after a rebound. There was no immediate word on Holloway’s condition. X-rays will be done today in Oxford.
“They got some big put-backs, which may not have been the case if our best rebounder was on the floor,” Kennedy said.
Holloway’s loss was big, but Kennedy cited many other factors in defeat, particularly the turnovers and a 17 for 31 night at the free throw line.
The Rebels had a 33-32 rebounding edge, a gap that narrowed after Holloway’s injury.
“It was a miracle and based on effort that we were in the game. We never got momentum, never got them on their heels,” he said. “For us to have 21 turnovers … Our inability to make basketball plays, to make free throws and execute … It just kills us.”
Kendrick, a McDonald’s All-American from Atlanta and a Memphis transfer, played his second game since becoming eligible at the close of the fall semester.
He got little done in eight minutes against Southern Miss, but that changed Wednesday when he played 29 minutes, most of those at the point. He finished with eight points, three rebounds, four assists and only one turnover.
Neither Kendrick nor his teammates could get a stop down the stretch as the Blue Raiders (11-2) hit big shots or got to the free throw line.
It was still a two-point game with 8:25 to play when the Rebels lost Middle’s Raymond Cintron, the guy called “shooter” in the scouting report, on two-straight trips.
Cintron penetrated and hit two free throws, then after Nick Williams air-balled a 3-pointer on the Ole Miss end, Cintron did not. He knocked it down from the corner. The five-point swing gave the Blue Raiders a 50-43 lead and sent them on their way.
The MTSU lead peaked at at 16 with 1:47 left.
“The biggest thing was we limited their offensive rebounds, and that’s what Ole Miss does,” said Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis Jr., a Starkville native.
With Holloway out, the Rebels faced foul trouble down the stretch with Reggie Buckner and Terrance Henry.
While Kendrick showed the skills that Ole Miss fans have been waiting to see, the other fall-semester freshman absentee, LaDarius White, played key minutes too, but not with the same impact as Kendrick.
In addition to missing Holloway, the Rebels faced foul trouble with Reggie Buckner and Terrance Henry, the latter fouling out with 1:56 left.
Kennedy said Kendrick at the point was just a matter of trying to spark the Rebels. He likened Kendrick’s arrival to an NFL team that picks up a quarterback at mid-season and has to limit its package.
“I’m just looking for somebody who won’t throw it to the other team. I don’t mean that flippantly, but that’s the truth. We’re just looking for somebody who can get the ball to the right person and the right time,” Kennedy said.