Ole Miss vs. Illinois State: Three things to watch
OXFORD, Miss. – Ole Miss continues its five-game homestand Saturday afternoon (2:30 p.m. CT, SECN) when the Rebels (5-4) take on Illinois State (4-6). Ole Miss defeated Sam Houston State, 82-69, Wednesday night, ending a three-game losing streak. In the win over the Bearkats, the Rebels shot 51.7 percent from the field, including making 10 of 29 shots from 3-point range.
Four Ole Miss players scored in double figures with graduate transfer Markel Crawford leading the way with 16 points. With Southeastern Conference play two weeks away, the Rebels are looking to gel and find the chemistry that will help them be successful in league play.
Three things to watch in Saturday’s game
1. Offensive production of Ole Miss’ frontcourt
Junior college transfer forward Bruce Stevens has started to come along as Ole Miss’ primary scorer in the post, notching back-to-back double-digit scoring efforts in the Rebels’ last two games. Outside of Stevens, Ole Miss needs offensive production from Justas Furmanavicius, Marcanvis Hymon, and Dominik Olejniczak. The three combined for 19 points in Wednesday’s win over the Bearkats.
2. Markel Crawford’s confidence
The Memphis native mentioned Wednesday night that he has found confidence on the offensive end. Crawford made 6 of 11 shots from the field, including going 4 for 8 from 3. At one point against Sam Houston State, Crawford hit three 3’s in a row. Afterwards, he explained what that meant to his game:
“Whenever a player sees his shot go in when he’s been struggling, it is a big plus. Seeing that shot go in helped me in other aspects of the game.”
Markel Crawford on hitting 3 three-pointers in a row vs. SHSU
Crawford is one of the most experienced scorers on the Ole Miss roster. If Crawford can become a double-digit scorer night in and night out, combined with productive outings from Terence Davis, Devontae Shuler, and Deandre Burnett, the Rebels’ offense could be quite hard to contain.
3. 3-point shooting
The Ole Miss offense runs smoothly when it can knock down 3s. In four of the Rebels’ five wins this season, they have made at least nine shots from beyond the arc. For the season, Ole Miss is shooting 33.3 percent from 3-point range. It will be interesting to see if the Rebels can continue this trend, providing an additional attack from all angles of the court.
Andy Kennedy’s teams have been quite successful at home since he took the reins in 2006-07. Ole Miss is 137-36 (.792 win pct.) in games played in Oxford during Kennedy’s tenure. In two seasons playing in the $96.5 million Pavilion at Ole Miss, the Rebels hold a 24-10 (.706) advantage against the opposition. Ole Miss has won 262 of its last 330 games (.794 win pct.) in Oxford dating back to the 1996-97 campaign.
Ole Miss has yet to beat Illinois State in the three meetings between the programs. The Redbirds defeated the Rebels 76-72 on their home floor on Dec. 23, 1978. The next meeting wouldn’t take place until Nov. 16, 2004 in the BCA Classic in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, resulting in a 70-52 win for Illinois State. The last meeting came in the NIT on March 14, 2012, with the Redbirds winning, 96-93, in overtime inside Ole Miss’ old arena, the Tad Smith Coliseum.
Remembering Torrey Ward
Before the Rebels and Redbirds take the court Saturday, they will spend a moment remembering a man who made a great impact on both programs. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Torrey Ward played at UAB from 1996-2000 under Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy, who was an assistant coach there at the time.
After his playing career, Ward joined Kennedy’s staff and spent five seasons at Ole Miss (2007-11). He then ventured to Illinois State, serving as an assistant coach for Dan Muller for two seasons before being promoted to associate head coach for the 2014-15 campaign. Following that season, Ward was tragically killed in a plane crash (April 7, 2015) on his way back from the Final Four in Indianapolis. A coach who was remembered as a positive light to his players and fellow staff members, Ward was only 36 years old at the time of his passing.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)