For some reason, Missouri seems to play its hardest against Ole Miss, whether the game takes place at Mizzou Arena in Columbia or in Oxford inside The Pavilion. The Tigers have lost both meetings with the Rebels this season, but only by a combined seven points.
On Thursday night inside Bridgestone Arena, No. 14 seed Missouri (8-23) gets a third chance to play No. 6 seed Ole Miss (8:25 p.m., SECN).
This past Sunday, the Tigers announced the firing of head coach Kim Anderson. His inspired Mizzou team is coming off an 86-83 overtime victory over Auburn Wednesday night in the opening round of this year’s Southeastern Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament. The win means Anderson lives to coach another game at his alma mater.
For the Rebels, a win over the Tigers would increase their chances of playing in a postseason tournament. Ole Miss (19-12) will need a win over Missouri to be in the conversation for the National Invitation Tournament, with many experts believing the Rebels must make a run to the conference championship game to become a bubble team for the NCAA tournament.
Ole Miss leads the series against the Tigers 8-1 and has won seven straight, including a season sweep of Missouri this year. The Rebels and the Tigers have met just once in the SEC Tournament with Ole Miss winning a thriller, 64-62, en route to the 2013 SEC Tournament title.
Despite how bad Missouri has looked at times this season, the Tigers are going to be a tough game for the Rebels. Here are three keys for Ole Miss heading into Thursday’s showdown against a feisty Mizzou team:
1. Do a better job of guarding the 3
In the first meeting, Missouri made 10 of 24 shots from beyond the arc. In the second meeting, the Tigers made 10 of 30 shots from deep. Against Auburn on Wednesday night, Missouri made 16 of 34 from 3, including the game-winner by Kevin Puryear at the buzzer.
Ole Miss will need to take away the long ball from the Tigers in order to pull away early. If Missouri shows any life from 3-point range, the Rebels will have another tough night putting away a Tigers team that ranks dead last in the SEC in 3-point field goal percentage (29.1).
2. Throw double teams at Kevin Puryear
Sophomore forward Kevin Puryear seems to thrive offensively in one-on-one matchups, and that was evident against Auburn Wednesday night. Puryear finished with the night with 30 points on 8 of 19 shooting, including 5 of 9 from deep. A lot of Puryear’s attempts weren’t contested, meaning he could have made a higher percentage of his shots against the Tigers only if they had fallen.
Ole Miss will need to throw multiple bodies at Puryear to take the basketball out of his hands. He’s proven to be trustworthy enough to get much-needed scores at the rim. In the first meeting against the Rebels, Puryear scored a game-high 26 points on 11 of 14 shooting and pulled down eight rebounds.
3. Limit turnovers
Ole Miss has been inconsistent all season long when it comes to taking care of the basketball. The Rebels had 12 turnovers in the first meeting against Missouri and 17 in the second meeting. Luckily for Ole Miss, those miscues happened against a not-so-good offensive basketball team. The Rebels are a much better team when they have less than 10 turnovers. Their best showing was against then-No. 3 Baylor, when Ole Miss committed just seven turnovers in a 78-75 loss.
(Feature image credit: Mario Parham, The Rebel Walk)