How It Happened: Ole Miss Pulls Away from Chattanooga, 70-58, Behind Career Night from Murrell
OXFORD, Miss. — Don’t look now, but Ole Miss men’s basketball is 3-0.
The Rebels improved to that mark after a 70-58 win on Tuesday against Chattanooga. It wasn’t the smoothest game, but head coach Kermit Davis made all the right adjustments for his team to pull away in the second half.
Backed by more stretches of phenomenal defense, the Rebels have the look of a fun basketball team and the Ole Miss community should take notice.
In the first half, both teams played competitive, efficient basketball, going into the half tied at 33.
The Rebels really spread the wealth in the first half as 10 of the 11 players who played had a shot attempt. Nine of those ten scored. Both teams started out hot, but anytime Ole Miss looked to start to open things up turnovers gave the Mocs opportunity.
Matthew Murrell’s number would be called in the second half and he would deliver.
With 14:56 left in the second half, Ole Miss would make its move. The Rebels exploded for a 26-8 run that would stretch the Ole Miss lead to 16. Murrell would lead the charge in that run, scoring 14 of the first 18 points in that run.
In the process, Murrell would set a new record for himself, hitting his sixth three-pointer of the game.
In the second half, Ole Miss outshot, outscored, and out-rebounded Chattanooga. The Rebels would up the intensity and the pressure, and the defense began to take its toll on the visitors.
Ole Miss shot 45% from the field in the second after a red hot 53% in the first. Kermit Davis also found a way to neutralize the Chattanooga offense.
Murrell led the way for Ole Miss behind 25 points on 9-14 shooting (6-10 3PT). Freshman TJ Caldwell scored a career-high 10 points. Nine Ole Miss players made multiple field goals.
The rebounding margin largely skewed towards the Rebs thanks to a big second half performance. Overall, Ole Miss won that battle, 42-28.
Chattanooga (1-2) was led by Jake Stephens. The transfer big finished with 16 points and 8 rebounds. UAB transfer Jamal Johnson also finished with 15 points. Overall, the Mocs shot 36% from the field.
What Happened in the Second Half
The Chattanooga Mocs entered the Pavilion with a new coach and a largely different roster that is trying to replicate the success of Lamont Paris’ team a year ago. Head coach Dan Earl brought in plenty of transfers, including getting his best player to follow him (Stephens).
Early on, the Mocs big man, Stephens, set the tone and Chattanooga kept him active in the offense. Whether it was a post feed, roll, pop, or dribble hand-off action, the ball was looking to get to Stephens or work off of him.
In the first half, Stephens went 6-9 from the field and notched 13 of his 16 points. If the play wasn’t designed for him to score, it was for him to create some action to find someone. The Mocs would use a lot of backdoor action trying to catch Ole Miss off guard and have Stephens feed with a pass over the top or off the bounce.
For a while it was working. Coach Davis realized this and found two things to halt the Mocs offense.
The first was to get his off-ball defenders to consistently work to stay between their man and the ball. This is a fundamental thing in basketball, but specific to this offense it took away a lot of the quick options.
The other big move was to add some physicality to push Stephens out of the paint. In my notes, three Rebels really stood out: Robert Allen, Jayveous McKinnis and Theo Akwuba.
Robert Allen has been the heart of this Ole Miss team. He was quiet in the stat column, but he consistently had Stephens all the way out to the perimeter, limiting the set-up of the Chattanooga offense.
McKinnis added a breath of relief and, like Akwuba, went pound for pound with Stephens. The size, length and physicality was the perfect match. The Mocs offense was ineffective in the second half and Stephens finished 1-6.
The Freshmen Show Their Stuff — and Credit Kermit Davis for letting them
Ole Miss was rated as having the 12th ranked recruiting class in 2022 by ESPN. That class featured Amaree Abram, TJ Caldwell, Malique Ewin, and Robert Cowherd.
With the injury to Daeshun Ruffin, we have seen a lot of Amaree Abram and TJ Caldwell. The duo has delivered and shown what made them top-100 recruits.
Tonight was another big performance for the youngsters, and they showed improved growth. Abram delivered his second-straight performance with three assists. In the first game against Alcorn State, he had five turnovers. Against Florida Atlantic he had one, and tonight he had none. The guard also displayed his ability to hit shots from the mid-range and the perimeter, finishing with a stat line of seven points, five rebounds, and three assists.
As mentioned earlier, TJ Caldwell also posted a career night. He showed an impressive catch-and-shoot three, getting his feet set off of movement. He would also add another triple later.
For those who may not know, Caldwell has a very impressive vertical. When Caldwell can get to the basket, he can easily get up and glide past the defense. Today, he showed that on a very impressive finish after attacking to the left.
Lastly, let’s look at Malique Ewin, who had only played three minutes in the first two games this season. With the Ole Miss roster being constructed as it is, it is tough for anyone to separate themselves to play major minutes in the frontcourt.
But Ewin got a little bit of a chance to play some more tonight. In that time, he showed some flashes of why he can be a special player with his skills — but also showed that he needed some time to grow. Ewin did turn the ball over once early. Instead of Kermit Davis pulling him early, the Rebels coach let him stay in and show some more.
Ewin would then proceed to faceup a small defender, rip to his right, and finish with a two-handed dunk after attacking baseline. It was one instance, but one that showed the potential Ewin possesses.
I give to Coach Davis for understanding his team. And even in a close game heading into halftime, he continued to let his freshmen play. Instead of pulling them for mistakes, he understands they have valuable time in the non-conference to gather experience that can help them contribute in SEC play, and he’s allowing them to learn.
Time will tell, but the future is really bright for this trio.
Ole Miss (3-0) will next take the court Friday as the Rebels host UT-Martin. The game will be at 6:30 PM and will be at the S&J Black Pavilion. This will be the final game before Ole Miss travels to Orlando for the ESPN Events Invitational MTE.
Look for more hoops coverage at The Rebel Walk!
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.