Ole Miss is one win away from the National Invitation Tournament Final Four in Madison Square Garden after upsetting top-seeded Syracuse, 85-80, Saturday in the second round of the tournament. The Rebels defeated the Orange with solid defense, limiting the Syracuse offense to just 44.6 percent shooting.
In the win, four Ole Miss players scored in double figures, with sophomore forward Terence Davis leading the way with a game-high 30 points. Deandre Burnett added 19; Cullen Neal scored 15, and Sebastian Saiz added 10.
But the Rebels aren’t the only team that has found a steady rhythm on the offensive end. Ole Miss’ next opponent, Georgia Tech, is also playing well at the right time.
The Yellow Jackets (19-15) have had at least four players score in double figures in their two NIT wins over Indiana and Belmont. Georgia Tech won both games by double digits and shot over 45 percent. The Yellow Jackets are led by freshman guard Josh Okogie, who leads the team in scoring (15.8 points per game). Okogie also leads the team in steals (1.3 per game).
Georgia Tech also has a post presence in junior center Ben Lammers, who’s second on the team in scoring (14.2 ppg). Like the Rebels’ senior forward Sebastian Saiz, Lammers is a rebounding machine, averaging 9.4 boards a game. Lammers had 11 boards against the Hoosiers and 10 against the Bruins.
Andy Kennedy and Josh Pastner will face off just for third time, but it will be the second time against one another in the postseason. These two coaches went head-to-head in the 2010 NIT, with Ole Miss defeating Pastner’s Memphis team 90-81 in the second round of the tournament.
Kennedy led the Rebels (22-13) to the NIT Final Four that year, and did so two seasons prior (2008).
Kennedy is 1-0 against the Yellow Jackets and 2-0 against Pastner, with the second win coming in the 2015-16 season, which was Pastner’s last year as head coach for the Tigers. Ole Miss defeated Memphis, 85-79, in that game.
Both programs have been playing well enough to get to New York City, but only one will advance at the conclusion of Tuesday night’s game (8:00 p.m., ESPN2).
Here are three keys for the Rebels’ matchup against Georgia Tech:
1. Keep Lammers off the boards
As mentioned before, Ben Lammers is averaging 9.4 rebounds a game, which ranks third in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Ole Miss has Sebastian Saiz, Marcanvis Hymon, and Justas Furmanavicius to throw at Lammers, who is 6-foot-10 and has an exceptional knowledge of how to use his body frame to block out defenders. Lammers going up against the Rebels’ post players, especially Saiz, will be one of the key matchups to watch.
2. Force Georgia Tech into bad shots
The Yellow Jackets are shooting 43.8 percent for the season, but they have shot over their season average in the NIT. Georgia Tech made 27 of 56 shots against Indiana and 26 of 56 shots against Belmont. If Ole Miss forces the likes of Josh Okogie, Ben Lammers, Tadric Jackson, and Quinton Stephens into uncomfortable shots, the Rebels could win this one by double digits.
3. Win the battle of foul shots
Ole Miss leads NCAA Division I Basketball in free throws made with 690. Georgia Tech has attempted 677, making just 459. By the numbers, this goes well for the Rebels. The only thing Kennedy’s team has to do is make a high percentage of its shots from the charity stripe once the opportunity arises.
Ole Miss and Georgia Tech tip off at 8:00 pm in The Pavilion (9,051) at Ole Miss in the NIT Quarterfinals. The game will be televised on ESPN 2, and Bob Wischusen will call the play-by-play while Fran Fraschilla will handle analyst duties.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)