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Despite being short-handed, Kennedy proud of his team’s effort and feels Rebels had chance to win

Despite being short-handed, Kennedy proud of his team’s effort and feels Rebels had chance to win

Starkville, MS —There were no heads hanging low—from either head coach Andy Kennedy or his Ole Miss players—following the Rebels’ 83-77 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon. Everyone in the locker room realized just how close they came to getting the job done.

Everyone also realized how good the Rebels can actually be at full-strength.

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Ole Miss’ Rasheed Brooks puts pressure on MSU senior guard Craig Sword (Photo credit: Kelly Price/MSU Athletics Media Relations)

The starting lineup was different from what Ole Miss fans are accustomed to seeing. There was no Sebastian Saiz in the paint banging with Bulldogs’ 6-foot-9 senior forward Gavin Ware. There was no 6-foot-3, 218-pound Martavious Newby on the perimeter. And, most noticeably, there was no 5-foot-10, 179-pound Stefan Moody pushing the basketball up the floor, making his way through multiple defenders for a deep jumper.

But thanks in part to the effort he saw from a group of players who hadn’t played in such an intense, Division I rivalry basketball game until Saturday, Coach Kennedy was not bothered by the absence of three of his starters. As a whole, an undermanned Ole Miss team rose to the challenge and went toe-to-toe with MSU (8-10, 1-5 Southeastern Conference).

Junior forward Rasheed Brooks led the Rebels with 20 points and shot 8 of 15 from the field, including a 4 for 7 effort from 3-point range. Freshman Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey added 16. Junior Anthony Perez had 16 and Sam Finley provided 10 points off the bench for Ole Miss.

In the postgame press conference, Kennedy smiled and indicated that a couple of the unusual lineups seemed almost surreal:

For a minute, I couldn’t believe this was our team, but I was really proud of the effort. I thought we battled. If you would have told me coming in, ‘Coach, you’re going to out-rebound them by five; you’re only going to have 10 turnovers and shoot 50 percent from three, would you take your chances?’

His answer: “Absolutely.” 

As a team, the Rebels (12-7, 2-5) were 24 for 63 from the field—10 for 20 from three and 19 for 23 from the free throw line. And defensively, Ole Miss was just as good, forcing the Bulldogs into 15 turnovers, however, they couldn’t convert off MSU’s mistakes, scoring only 14 off of them.

The Rebels’ zone defense frustrated the Bulldogs in the first half, as they batted away each basketball that came in the lane. MSU had difficulties finding its way to a score in the paint and had to rely on outside shooting. But Bulldogs’ freshman guard Quinndary Weatherspoon was able to tire down Ole Miss, scoring 15 of his 18 points in the first half, including scoring the final four points of the first half that put MSU down only two, 38-36, at the break.

A few missed opportunities were the difference in the game

Kennedy felt his team was in great position to win the game, but he knew the missed scoring opportunities in the paint and some missed defensive assignments on Bulldogs’ freshman guard Malik Newman were what ultimately killed the Rebels’ chances. With the game tied at 59 with 8:59 remaining, Ole Miss allowed MSU to go on an 11-0 run that started with a three by Newman, who finished with a game-high 25 points.

“We went to the zone, it confused them a little bit early but we left the best shooter in the gym open. He made us pay as he should have,” Kennedy said about Newman, who made 7 out of 10 three-pointers. “Then for us, we continued to rally, continued to stay around and just couldn’t make plays at the rim,” he added.

Kennedy explained that it all boiled down to finishing at the basket:

Points in the paint, we are finishing in the mid 40’s; they are finishing in the mid 60’s. That’s the difference in a two-possession game. Not trying to sound like a broken record, but hard plays at the basket when the game was on the line was the difference.

Feature image credit: Kelly Price, MSU Athletic Media Relations

About The Author

Courtney Smith

Courtney is from Memphis and received his Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Memphis in May of 2014. He began his journalism career covering the Memphis Tigers Men's basketball team, which landed him an intern position on 730 Yahoo Sports Radio and a position with Rivals.com. A freelance writer for the Associated Press, Courtney is also a member of The Rebel Walk team and reports regularly on Ole Miss football and basketball. Courtney, the father of a six-year old girl named Soniyah, prefers to cover NCAA basketball and football, but is happy to report on any other sport that comes his way.

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