By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The homecourt road to New York was paved for NIT No. 2 seed Ole Miss when No. 1 Arizona State was upset by 8 seed Jacksonville in the opening round.
As the NIT pecking order goes, the Rebels have gotten past their biggest hurdle and stand one win away from their second trip to Madison Square Garden in three years.
That’s not the motivational track Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy will take with his players.
The Rebels (23-10) take on No. 5 seed Texas Tech tonight at 6 in a quarterfinal matchup at Tad Smith Coliseum. The game will be televised by ESPN, and the winner will reach the NIT Final Four.
The Red Raiders (19-15) have won twice in the NIT, at Seton Hall and at home against Jacksonville. Heading into the postseason they’d lost eight of their last nine and 13 of their last 18. They finished just 4-12 in Big 12 Conference play.
“They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t a great basketball team,” Kennedy said, adding that his players don’t pay attention to what goes on in other conference races.
“Our guys get consumed with SEC basketball. You’re not as familiar with other leagues. Obviously Memphis was an exception, based on logistics. Our guys realize if they lose it’s over.
“We’re in this predicament, because we didn’t protect home floor. We certainly don’t want to go out on a note where we didn’t do what we were supposed to do at home.”
Ole Miss went 4-4 in SEC home games. Perhaps one of those wins would have gotten them in the NCAA tournament.
Tech has won the only four previous meetings in the series, all played between 1954 and 1975.
Kennedy expects to see a good helping of man defense from the Red Raiders, coached by Pat Knight, who followed his dad Bob Knight on the job in Lubbock.
Defense, however, has not been a Texas Tech specialty this season. The Red Raiders finished last in the Big 12 in scoring defense (75.6 ppg), next to last in opponent field goal percentage (43.9).
Still, Knight has seen improvement in Tech’s defense down the stretch.
“At times we’ve had some rough halves this year, but overall defensively I think we’re much improved,” he said.
Tech has not allowed 70 points in an NIT game. It defeated Seton Hall 87-69, Jacksonville 69-64.
The Rebels saw a number of different zone defenses last Friday in their 90-81 second-round win over Memphis.
“Tech will play man and mix in some zone,” Kennedy said. “They’ll be a little bit bigger up front, and they’ll run some motion offense. It won’t be a clash of styles.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or parrish.alford@djournal,com.
Texas Tech at Ole Miss
– TV: ESPN.
– Radio: Ole Miss Network.
– Series: Texas Tech leads 4-0.
– Last meeting: Texas Tech 57-51 in Oxford in 1975.
– Coaches: Ole Miss – Andy Kennedy (104-62, fifth year; 83-49, fourth year at Ole Miss); Texas Tech – Pat Knight (37-41 second season)
– Notes: Ole Miss is 4-0 in NIT home games under Andy Kennedy. … The Rebels are 10-1 all-time in NIT home games and have won nine straight dating back to 1983. .. Kennedy says he maintains a close friendship with Tech coach Pat Knight. … Tech reserve guard Theron Jenkins is a native of Flowood. … Ole Miss forward Reggie Buckner needs one blocked shot to break the school’s season record of 56.
Ole Miss (23-10)
F – Murphy Holloway 6-7 So. 9.7 ppg 7.6 rpg
G – Chris Warren 5-10 Jr. 17.1 ppg 3.6 apg
G – Terrico White 6-5 So. 15.0 ppg 4.5 rpg
G – Zach Graham 6-6 Jr. 9.3 ppg 3.2 rpg
F – Terrance Henry 6-9 So. 6.5 ppg 3.6 rpg
Top reserves: F Reggie Buckner, G Trevor Gaskins, G Eniel Polynice
Texas Tech (19-15)
F – D’walyn Roberts 6-9 Jr. 6.9 ppg 5.9 rpg 39
F – Darko Cohadarevic 6-9 Sr. 6.8 ppg 4.9 rpg
F – Mike Singletary 6-5 Jr. 14.6 ppg 6.8 rpg
G – John Roberson 5-11 Jr. 14.8 ppg 5.4 apg
G – Nick Okorie 6-1 Sr. 18.2 ppg 3.8 apg
G David Tairu
F Brad Reese
F Theron Jenkins
– Parrish Alford