No. 5 seed Ole Miss went into Saturday’s second round matchup of the National Invitational Tournament against top-seeded Syracuse as a seven-point underdog. But the Rebels played like they did not want their season to end.
Rebels’ head coach Andy Kennedy beat Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim at his own game by implementing different defensive sets against the Orange, defeating Syracuse 85-80 to move into the quarterfinals round of the NIT. Kennedy walked off the court of the Carrier Dome holding the victory banner over the Orange for the first time since defeating Syracuse back when he was interim head coach at Cincinnati during the 2006 season.
Throughout the game, Ole Miss (22-13) showed Syracuse man-to-man, 2-3 zone, 1-3-1 zone, and half-court pressure, which frustrated the Orange on offense. As a team, Syracuse (19-15) shot just 8 of 30 from 3-point range, including 29 of 65 from the field, after coming off a 29 of 52 effort against UNC-Greensboro in the opening round of the NIT.
Syracuse stars Tyus Battle and Andrew White III combined for 54 points on 18 of 31 shooting against the Spartans, but both struggled against the pesky Rebels, who forced 13 turnovers. Battle made just 7 of 17 shots from the field to finish with 17 points. White added 18 on a 4 of 11 shooting effort.
Battle and White’s struggles primarily came from the defensive pressure from Ole Miss as the Rebels didn’t give the Orange backcourt any space from the perimeter. Battle and White combined for three turnovers.
While Ole Miss slowed down Syracuse’s offensive attack of Battle of White, the Rebels were cooking on offense with sophomore forward Terence Davis leading the way with a career-high and game-high 30 points. He made 11 of 14 from the field, including 6 of 7 from 3-point range. Davis also had help from Deandre Burnett and Cullen Neal, who scored 19 and 15 points, respectively.
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Sebastian Saiz added 12 points and 10 rebounds, which was his 22nd double-double of the season and 31st of his career. With the win, the Rebels will host the quarterfinals round of the NIT against the winner of Georgia Tech/Belmont on Tuesday.
Here are three takeaways from Ole Miss’ victory over the Orange:
1. Running a slow pace offense
In the final four minutes of the game, both teams started to trade 3s. First, Andrew White III made a 23-footer, then Cullen Neal converted on a 3 from the corner. White quickly returned the favor with another shot from long range. Then, Burnett made a shot from deep. Andy Kennedy decided to call timeout at the 3:22 mark of the second half to slow the pace of the game down, and once he did that Ole Miss started using the entire shot clock, which worked in its favor since it was ahead on the scoreboard.
2. Cullen Neal stepping up
Redshirt junior Cullen Neal had 11 against Monmouth in the opening round of the NIT. Then, he added 15 against Syracuse. It was needed since Sebastian Saiz saw his usual double teams in the post. Neal made 4 of 7 shots, including a 3 of 6 effort from long range.
3. Spacing the floor
Ole Miss did a good job of spacing the floor against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. Instead of throwing the basketball on the inside to Saiz as soon a play was called, everyone was touching the basketball, having equal opportunities to score.
Seven different players scored for the Rebels. Ole Miss had 17 assists on 29 made field goals. Deandre Burnett had nine of those 17 assists.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)