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Rebels face Vols and look to gain momentum for postseason run

Rebels face Vols and look to gain momentum for postseason run

OXFORD – Andy Kennedy has sounded like a broken record in recent weeks when he discusses the chances for Ole Miss to go on a deep run, but he continues to point out that without a single dominant team in the Southeastern Conference this year, a Rebels’ run is still possible.

But first, Ole Miss (19-11, 9-8) needs to find a way to win on the road– an area the Rebels have struggled with en route to a 5-7 road record. Yet the window is still open for opportunity with a trip to Knoxville Saturday to play the Vols (11:00 a.m. CT, SEC Network) in both programs’ SEC finale.

Tennessee (13-17, 6-11) will be without senior guard Kevin Punter Jr., the team’s leading scorer (22.2 ppg), on Senior Day. Punter’s coach, Rick Barnes, made the announcement before Friday’s practice that the 6-foot-2 New York native will undergo surgery on the stress fracture in his foot on Tuesday in his hometown.

saiz vs state

Sebastian Saiz is getting back in rythmn following his recovery from eye surgery. (Photo credit: Joshua McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)

Punter missed Tennessee’s last four games while debating whether or not he would give it another go. He suffered the injury after the Vols’ 80-70 loss at Kentucky on Feb. 18. Punter told Barnes he wanted to finish out the season, but with the inability to walk on his ailing foot, Punter had to call it quits once and for all.

Before Kennedy knew the extent of the injury, he was preparing the Rebels to battle Tennessee with Punter on the floor.

“Obviously, he’s a tremendous player, but hasn’t played in a little while,” said Kennedy, who’s 6-6 all-time against a Vols team that’s currently riding a three-game losing streak. “So we are going to do what we do. If he’s on the floor, we are going to game plan. Our game plan going in will be preparing for him to play.

“But a lot of it is just match-ups and how you defend certain things.”

Tennessee lacks size, which could be a slight negative for Ole Miss as it was for the Rebels against Mississippi State on Senior Night when the Bulldogs played with four guards (Quinndary Weatherspoon, Malik Newman, Craig Sword and Travis Daniels) alongside senior forward Gavin Ware, who had a team-high 28 points and pulled down nine rebounds.

Kennedy feels the spacing of the Vols’ guards could cause Ole Miss issues in its front court. Robert Hubbs III, who’s third on the team in scoring (10.8 ppg), is the other solid option for the Vols on the perimeter with Punter’s absence.

“Tennessee does not have that big body five, but they can really space it four different places,” Kennedy said. “Not necessary with great shooting, although they are capable; they are very athletic, a lot like Mississippi State.

“They are going to spread a guy like Tomasz Gielo and a guy like Marcanvis Hymon. A guy like Sebastian Siaz, at times, will be out of their comfort zone, having to guard perimeter players.”

By now, Kennedy thought the Rebels would be in a comfortable position, at least in the conversation for a NCAA tournament bid, but that hasn’t been the case.

Losses to LSU, Texas A&M, Florida and South Carolina have placed the Rebels in danger of being left out of  the NCAA and National Invitation tournaments, and Kennedy realizes what’s at stake for a possible postseason appearance. “We have put ourselves in this predicament,” he said.

“I want to try to get to 20, get to 10-8 in the league, continue to try to build momentum going into (the SEC tournament) and hopefully we can make a magical run,” Kennedy continued. “We’re still somewhat in control of our own fate as it relates to seeding based on other things.”

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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