For the Ole Miss Men’s Basketball team to make postseason run, they’ll need to improve on what has been a weak link in Southeastern Conference road games this season–rebounding; however, head coach Andy Kennedy is confident that with his team getting healthier it will improve and win some big games.
On the glass, the Rebels (16-10, 6-7) have been out-rebounded 117-89 in their last three road games, despite having junior forward Sebastian Saiz back in the lineup after surgery for a detached retina sidelined him.
Before he got hurt, Saiz was second in the SEC in rebounding. Kennedy, however, is not worried about any current drop-off in production on the glass, because he knows Saiz will get back to his old self soon. During his recovery, Saiz was not allowed to even bounce a ball or run or jump. Kennedy said he expected it to take about 7-10 days for Saiz to “get his legs and rhythm and cardio and touch back” and added, “I know how much he wants it.”
At this week’s press conference, Kennedy emphasized just how critical it is for the Rebels to win the rebounding battle. “We’re 14-1 (this season) when we win the battle of the boards. If we don’t win the battle of the boards, we are in for trouble.”
Ole Miss is 4-6 in road games and has to find a way to win at Auburn Saturday afternoon (4:00 p.m. CT, SEC Network) to give itself a chance for a run after the conclusion of the SEC Tournament.
Kennedy: Rebels still ‘control their own destiny’
However, Kennedy is proud of the effort his team is giving and remains focused on one game at a time.
“I’m proud we are where we are despite everything we went through,” he said. “You take the two best players off any team in the country and for the extended time we did, Sebastian missed seven games; (Stefan) Moody played, but he was a shell of himself for about four or five games. Then they would be glad to be in the position that we are in and still control their own destiny. That’s the approach we are taking.”
At the beginning of the season, Kennedy thought Ole Miss would be a high percentage shooting team, but quickly found out otherwise as a lot of shot attempts weren’t falling for the Rebels, who are next to last in the SEC in field goal percentage (41.6).
Senior guard Moody — the Rebels’ leading scorer at 22.8 points per game who has been hampered by a hamstring injury – struggled shooting the basketball from the perimeter in Tuesday night’s road loss at Texas A&M, going 5-for-20 from the field, but still finished with a team-high 17 points.
Junior guard Rasheed Brooks averaged 15.3 points per game in the Rebels’ three games against Florida, Vanderbilt and Missouri, shooting 43.6 percent from the field; however, like Moody, he struggled a bit in the game against A&M Tuesday night.
Kennedy isn’t sure what to make of why the shots aren’t falling, but he does believe it could simply be his players are just trying to make plays.
“I think sometimes with Moody, Rasheed, or with whomever, sometimes we venture out of doing what is in the best interest of us because we feel like we have to make a play,” said Kennedy, who’s 12-5 in his career against the Tigers including seven-straight wins. “That’s when it comes back to trusting again, trusting the system.”
Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy
Early in the first half against Texas A&M, the Rebels were up 20-11, then Mississippi had a setback, allowing the Aggies to go on a 13-5 run to cut the lead to 25-24 and eventually took a five-point lead into halftime.
Heading up to Auburn won’t be an easy task as the Tigers, like most SEC teams, have fared well at home with a 7-5 record.
Kennedy had a chance to watch Auburn (10-15, 4-9) get its second road win on the season Wednesday night at Arkansas and the Tigers did it without their starting point guard and leading scorer Kareem Canty (18.3 ppg), who was suspended indefinitely and decided to leave the program after declaring for the NBA Draft on Feb. 11.
Since Canty’s departure, senior post player Cinmeon Bowers has taken over duties as the floor general. And Kennedy isn’t sure how to handle the 6-foot-7 forward.
“From a matchup standpoint, I’m thinking how do we matchup with them, because they are big,” Kennedy said. “They put on a phenomenal performance against the Razorbacks, going 15-for-23 from deep. In an open gym, that’s hard to do. You do that in an SEC game, they definitely deserve that win.”
Before Kennedy gave his opinion about Auburn, Brooks talked about the Tigers, who are dead last in the SEC in field goal percentage (40.2), saying they are in the same predicament as the Rebels.
“They need to beat us; we need to beat them,” Brooks said. “So it’s like we both need a win. That’s how I feel about them.”
(Feature image credit: Joshua McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)