Despite Hot Start, Ole Miss Falls 80-71 to No. 4 Auburn
OXFORD, Miss. — The Ole Miss men’s basketball team had one of its best performances of the year on Saturday night as the Rebels came close to upsetting No. 4 Auburn before ultimately falling, 80-71, to the Tigers.
A home win could have changed the way the NET viewed Ole Miss because the Rebels’ resume would have been closer to some other SEC teams. However, Ole Miss fell just short on its home court. With an 80-71 loss at home, the Rebels fell victim to their Achilles heel of the season — winning the second half.
As the old saying goes…. close, but no cigar. With the loss, the Rebels’ record now sits at 9-7, 1-3 SEC.
The first half saw arguably the best offensive performance of the season from this team. In order for Ole Miss to upset a team that has the talent and depth of Auburn (16-1, 5-0 SEC), the Rebels were going to have to get out and score early. Head coach Kermit Davis’ team rose to that challenge.
“Proud of our team…thought for about eighteen and a half minutes, we were up 12 or 13. How physical we played, how we guarded, we ran really good crisp offense against a good defensive team.“
Head coach Kermit Davis
Ole Miss put up 44 points in the half on one of the more impressive shooting performances, hitting a blistering 56.7% from the field (17-30).
The most interesting statistic may be the six threes the Rebels made in the first half. Ole Miss featured a balanced scoring attack that produced points from all eight players who took the court in the first half. This type of balance is encouraging to see.
Nysier Brooks with the bookends. A four-point swing by #3 himself. Huge block on one end followed by the hook on the other pic.twitter.com/Mh9RNmCu4f
— T.J. (@TJOxley1) January 16, 2022
The Rebels limited Auburn to 38 points in the first half. Despite a hot start from both teams, the Ole Miss defense found its footing as the half went on. The Tigers struggled to shoot from the perimeter, making only 25% in the first.
The Rebel lead extended up to a high of 13. A big 12-2 run starting at the 10:53 mark ran up the lead. Ole Miss was in a prime position to carry the momentum into half, but the Tigers came storming back as their 7-0 run cut the lead down to six at intermission.
Another great set gets Murrell a three pic.twitter.com/nX6fK0NMOX
— T.J. (@TJOxley1) January 16, 2022
In the second half, the Auburn offense would continue to show why they’re one of the most dynamic teams in the country. A 20-5 Tiger run would showcase a balanced offensive threat that would give the Tigers the lead to close things out. Wendell Green Jr. hit a pair of three pointers midway through the second that was crushing.
“They made some tough shots, That’s what good teams do.“
Kermit Davis on Auburn
Offensively, Ole Miss would struggle to get points in the paint in the second half. The Rebels finished with 20 in the first half but could only muster 10 in the second. This could be in part to the length and rim protection of the Auburn defense. Still, however, as the Tigers extended their lead to 11 points, Ole Miss wouldn’t back down. They cut the lead down to three before Auburn put it away in the final minutes of the game.
“Give Auburn credit with their rim protection in the second half. I thought we got the ball in some really good places and then their length really bothered us. (Walker) Kessler did a really good job. We had some pockets of some really good play, but just a disappointing loss for our team.“
Coach Kermit Davis
Tye Fagan led the Rebels with 17 points, 12 of which he scored in the first half. Matthew Murrell’s confidence continues as his three triples helped him finish with 13.
It’s important to note that not only did Murrell score, but he rebounded quite well as he finished with 8. Nysier Brooks finished with 14 points and 8 rebounds, while Jaemyn Brakefield added 10 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists.
Ole Miss would shoot 44% from the field on 8-22 shooting. The Rebels would win the rebounding battle, 32-27, but Ole Miss would also commit fourteen turnovers to Auburn’s six.
#OleMiss 64 – 71 Auburn
Jaemyn Brakefield finishing the lob from Ruffin pic.twitter.com/qJ0yYkF9EE
— T.J. (@TJOxley1) January 16, 2022
The Tigers were led by their big man in Walker Kessler. He finished with 20 points on 9-11 shooting while grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking seven shots. Jabari Smith, KD Johnson, and Wendell Green Jr. would all finish in double figures for the Tigers. Auburn would shoot 29-58 from the field for the game and 32% from three.
A Season Observation
It can be tough for Ole Miss fans to see a loss such as this, as the second-half struggles add to the emotion of it all. When starters Robert Allen and Jarkel Joiner went down earlier this season, it was a blow as losing your heart and hustle is never easy.
The Rebels haven’t yet produced those coveted wins, but a closer look can offer reason for optimism. But I believe it is important to show how we should be looking for growth with this year’s squad. Let’s take a minute and examine two things that stand out to me about this team.
The Response to Adversity
Against Auburn, we learned that Ole Miss is capable of pushing back. The Rebs lost some momentum on that final 7-0 Tiger run that ended the first half. After a quick Daeshun Ruffin three to start the second, Auburn would go on a 10-2 run to take the lead. This is the first “Oh, here we go again moment,” but Ole Miss would answer back with four straight to regain the lead.
Auburn would then go on that massive 20-5 run. The Ole Miss offense was struggling, and the Auburn guards were hitting from outside. With 5:37 left, the Tigers were up eleven. At this point the second feeling of “Oh, here we go again” hit me.
But then, Ole Miss really dug its feet in and fought. The Rebels would go on a 7-0 run, force a turnover or two, and with a questionable call on a high Auburn ball screen, Ole Miss could’ve had a chance to take the game to a single possession.
Instead of what we saw in the losses to Tennessee, Boise State, and Marquette, what we saw against Auburn was different — the Rebels showed maturity and the ability to overcome.
“We got such a good locker room, with a good group of men who are good guys. I hate that we’re not full… They’re with ya, they try… we’ll go back and hit it again.“
The Shooting Narrative Has Changed
Remember in Ole Miss’ loss against Marquette, when in the second half the Rebels made only 4/13 free throws? Or what about when the Davis’ squad shot 1-10 from the perimeter in the loss to Western Kentucky. After these performances, many thought this team was similar to last year in terms of shooting. Right?
Ole Miss has flipped the script in conference play. A sign of growth is found in the massive jump in the Rebels’ shooting. As you’re reading this, take a guess where Ole Miss stands in 3PT% in conference play. In comparison to the other SEC teams, are they near the top? The bottom?
Well, the reality is no one in the SEC has shot the ball better from the perimeter. The Rebels were actually first prior to the Auburn game. After it, they are now shooting 39.3% from the perimeter with 35 triples in four games or 8.75 makes per game.
The free-throw shooting has improved too. Ole Miss was a perfect 15/15 from the line against Auburn. This means that Ole Miss is now 43/54 in the conference. This is good for a team-high 79.62% from the line.
Ole Miss will have a quick turnaround, as the Rebels host Missouri (7-9, 1-3 SEC) at SJB Pavilion on Tuesday night with tipoff set at 6 p.m. CT on ESPNU.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)
TJ Oxley is a current MBA student at Ole Miss after having earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Toledo. He currently covers college hoops and the NBA Draft for the Basketball Society as well as all things Ole Miss for The Rebel Walk.