With only an eight-player lineup – and sometimes just a six or seven player rotation – Andy Kennedy has been able to lead Ole Miss to the postseason. The Rebels have reached a postseason tournament eight times in 11 years under Kennedy.
On Tuesday night in the home state of freshman guard Breein Tyree, the Rebels (21-13) defeated Monmouth, 91-83, in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. Ole Miss is 14-11 all-time in 12 NIT appearances.
Five players for the Rebels scored in double figures, with senior forward Sebastian Saiz leading the way with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Deandre Burnett added 17 and Tyree, Terence Davis, and Cullen Neal notched 11 points apiece in the victory.
In the win, Ole Miss had 16 assists on 32 made field goals and outrebounded the Hawks 46-31.
The Rebels are back on the east coast to play No. 1 seed Syracuse Saturday morning (10:00 a.m., ESPN) in the second round of the NIT. The Orange are coming off a 90-77 victory over UNC-Greensboro in the first round of the NIT from Wednesday night.
Syracuse, coached by Jim Boeheim, is playing with a chip on its shoulders after being left out of the NCAA Tournament — especially after the Orange defeated three top 10 teams (Florida State, Virginia, and Duke) during the regular season.
Syracuse (19-14) will play the Rebels inside the Carrier Dome, where the Orange is 17-3 this season. This will be the first time Syracuse and Ole Miss will meet on the hardwood floor, but not the first time Kennedy will face off against Boeheim.
As interim head coach at Cincinnati during the 2006 season, Kennedy posted a 1-2 record against Boeheim, with his lone win coming inside the Carrier Dome, 82-65. As Kennedy has said before, his Rebels have “no margin for error” with the short lineup they’ve had to go with this season.
Here are three keys for the Rebels in their matchup against the Orange:
1. Force 15 or more turnovers
Ole Miss was pretty effective Tuesday night against Monmouth on the defensive end, forcing 12 turnovers, which led to 12 points for the Rebels. Ole Miss is a better team when it forces 15 or more turnovers. For the season, the Rebels are 10-4 when they force 15 or more turnovers. Syracuse averages 12.3 turnovers per game, which ranks 100th in Division 1 Basketball.
2. Score 90 points or more
Ole Miss scored at least 90 points in six games this season, and won all six of them, with its last 90-point effort coming against the Hawks. But scoring 90 against the Orange will not be easy as Syracuse only gives up an average of 70.6 points per game.
3. Get to the free throw line
The Rebels lead Division I Basketball in free throws made with 678 out of 903 attempts. On Tuesday night, Ole Miss made 18 of 22 attempts from the charity stripe. Sebastian Saiz went a perfect 10 for 10 from the line to pick up his 30th career double-double and 21st of the season, en route to setting the Rebels’ single-season double-double record.
Ole Miss and Syracuse will tip off at 10:00 a.m. (CT) in the Carrier Dome (35,446) in Syracuse, New York. The second-round NIT game will be televised by ESPN, with Fran Fraschilla handling analyst duties and Bob Wischusen calling the play-by-play.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)