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Ole Miss Men’s Basketball Hits the Road to Face UCF

Ole Miss Men’s Basketball Hits the Road to Face UCF

ORLANDO, Fla. – (Release) The Ole Miss men’s basketball team takes to the road for the second time this season, traveling east to Florida where they’ll take on UCF Sunday, December 10 at 3 p.m. CT on ESPN+.


Ole Miss Rebels (8-0)
Head Coach: Chris Beard • 1st Season at Ole Miss (8-0) • 245-98 career record (12th Season)

UCF (6-2)
Head Coach: Johnny Dawkins • 8th Season at UCF (137-89) • 293-204 career record (16th Season)

Television/Online: ESPN+
Play-by-Play: Austin Lyon
Color: B.J. Taylor

Radio: Ole Miss Radio Network
Play-by-Play: David Kellum
Color: Marc Dukes

This will be the fifth matchup in the series overall between the two programs, with Ole Miss leading three to one. This is the second game in as many years in a series that is just 16 years old.

Beginning with a home-and-away series in the winter of 2007 and 2008, the Rebels came out on top in back-to-back seasons, first in Orlando and then at home in Oxford in the Tad Pad. The following year, Ole Miss welcomed the Knights back to Oxford for their final non-conference game of the season, defeating them 84-56 to move the Rebels to 12-2 on the year. Ole Miss dropped last year’s competition in Oxford 72-61.

• UCF kept Ole Miss off the scoreboard for nearly the first eight minutes of action, eventually leading by 10 at the half, 36-26.
• Matthew Murrell led the comeback attempt with 21 points, sinking four makes from three while adding four rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a block.
• Forward Josh Mballa came off the bench and scored 18 points with seven rebounds.
• C.J. Kelly paced the Knights in scoring with 20 points and nine rebounds, while eventual top-10 NBA Draft pick Taylor Hendricks scored 17 and grabbed seven boards.

Going 6-2 through their first eight games of the season, UCF has picked up wins over FIU, Cal State Fullerton, South Dakota State, Charlotte, Lipscomb, and Jacksonville. Their two losses came by way of Miami and Stetson.

A transfer guard from Ball State, Jaylin Sellers has led the Knights offensively with an average of 20.6 points per game, the 22nd-best mark in the country. While Sellers ranks third in rebounds per game at 5.1 per contest, the team has been led down low by forward Ibrahima Diallo at 6.5. The two-time transfer from Ohio State and San Jose State also leads the team in blocked shots with 20, which ties him with Ole Miss’ Jamarion Sharp at No. 20 in the nation.

The Knights have a talented roster that ranks them among the top-100 in the NCAA across numerous statistical categories, including six in the top 50. UCF enters their game with Ole Miss ranked No. 16 in turnovers forced per game (16.8), No. 17 in blocks per game (5.6), No. 33 in turnover margin (+4.0), No. 35 in steals per game (9.2), No. 36 in field goal percentage defense (39.1), and No 46 in rebounds per game (40.8).

One of the biggest names in college basketball among the coaching ranks, Johnny Dawkins is currently in his eighth season at the helm with UCF, where he’s won 137 games. He got his first head coaching position at Stanford in 2008, where he led the team to four 20-win seasons during eight years. He previously spent 2000-2008 as an associate head coach under Mike Krzyzewski at his alma mater Duke, and was formally an assistant on Krzyzewski’s staff during the 1998-99 season. Dawkins played for Coach K’s Blue Devils from 1982-86, and was the first player at Duke to win the Naismith National Player of the Year award for Krzyzewski.

With the hiring of Chris Beard last March, the Ole Miss men’s basketball program is prepared to take the next step forward, bringing in one of the most successful coaches of the last decade.

Compiling a record of 245-98 as an NCAA head coach since 2012, Beard holds one of the highest win percentages in the nation, ranking 10th among active head coaches with 10 or more years of experience at 71.4%.

The 2019 AP National Coach of the Year has led three different programs to the NCAA Tournament over the previous eight years, and is undefeated in the opening round at 5-0. His all-time record in the NCAA Tournament is 11-5 (.688).

Ole Miss is one of just 13 teams in the country who remain unbeaten, and are the only one in the SEC, at 8-0. This marks just the fourth time in program history the Rebels have gone undefeated through their first eight games of the season, with the last coming in 2007-08.

2007-08: Began 13-0
2000-01: Began 11-0
1936-37: Began 11-0

With 12 points in Ole Miss’ win over NC State, Matthew Murrell surpassed the 1,000-career point mark, becoming the 42nd student-athlete in program history to do so. Now at 1,029 points in his career with the Rebels, he sits seven points behind next on the list, 2023 M Club Hall of Fame inductee Todd Abernethy.

After posting the third double-double of his career in the season opener (15 points, career-best 12 rebounds), Allen Flanigan followed it up with a career-best 29 points against Eastern Washington. The senior guard surpassed the 1,000 career-point mark against the Eagles, and played a key part in securing the victory by scoring eight of the last 11 points for the Rebels.

He once again led the team in scoring with 23 against Sam Houston, connecting on a career-best 14 makes from the free throw line. The senior helped lead Ole Miss to victory in their first road game at Temple with 26 points, the second-most scored in a game for his career, while tallying a career-best seven assists. Flanigan added his second double-double of the year in a 20-point win over NC State in the ACC/SEC Challenge with 15 points and 10 rebounds and helped Ole Miss take down Memphis with 18.

Averaging 6.8 blocks per game, Ole Miss ranks sixth in the country and is keeping opponents to just 39.8 percent shooting from the floor which ranks No. 55 in the nation. The muscle in the paint for the Rebels so far has been Jamarion Sharp, who leads the SEC in blocks per game (2.50) and ranks blocks (20), ranking No. 14 and No. 20 in the NCAA, respectively. Ole Miss is set to get even better at defending down low, with the recent waiver approval of forward Moussa Cisse, who averages 1.80 blocks per game for his career, the 16th-best average in the NCAA among all active players.

Through the first eight games of the season, Ole Miss has shown elite ball control and movement on the offensive side. With a total of 130 assists compared to just 83 turnovers, the Rebels’ assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.57 ranks No. 27 in the nation. They also rank No. 50 in the country in turnovers per game at 10.4, and assists per game at 16.2.

The team is led in assists by Jaylen Murray (38 assists to 15 turnovers) and Matthew Murrell (26 assists to 17 turnovers). Murray’s 4.8 assists per game ranks 71st in the NCAA and third in the SEC.

Through eight games this season, Ole Miss averages just 13.6 fouls per game, the twelfth-lowest average in the NCAA, and best in the SEC.

In the latest AP Top-25 Poll and USA Today Coaches’ Poll, Ole Miss received votes, landing No. 33 in the Coaches’ Poll with 23 votes, and No. 35 in the AP Poll with 15 votes. The program was last in the top-25 polls in January 2019 when they ranked No. 20 on January 21.

The roster for Ole Miss this season has the tallest student-athlete in Division I in forward Jamarion Sharp, and has the shortest student-athlete in the country in guard Cam Brent. The two stand a full two feet apart in height, with Sharp at 7’5″ and Brent at 5’5″.

Career milestones to watch for the Rebels:

Allen Flanigan
• Career 3PM: 98
Matthew Murrell
• Career Points: 1,053 – Ranks 39th at Ole Miss (No. 38: Jason Harrison, 1,066)
• Career 3PM: 157 – 163 enters top-10 in school history
• Career 3PA: 464 – Ranks 10th at Ole Miss (No. 9: Stefan Moody, 494)
Jamarion Sharp
• Career Blocks: 299 – Will be 112th player in NCAA history with 300 career blocks

Forwards Jamarion Sharp and Moussa Cisse rank among the nation’s best in active career leaders in a handful of statistical categories. After becoming the fifth player ever to lead the NCAA in blocks in two seasons, Sharp ranks first in both career blocks and career blocked shots per game. Establishing himself as a premier shot blocker as well, Cisse ranks 16th in blocks per game and total blocks.

Averaging 7.3 rebounds per game in his career, Sharp ranks No. 42 in the country, while Cisse’s 628 career boards rank No. 72. Cisse also ranks among the top-50 in double-doubles (15, No. 49 in NCAA).

Transfer forward Jamarion Sharp stands as the tallest student-athlete in NCAA Division I men’s basketball this season at 7’5″, a title he has held for three-straight seasons now, and is even listed as one of the tallest living humans on Wikipedia. After spending his first two college years at John A. Logan College, Sharp played two years at Western Kentucky from 2021 to 2023. In 64 games played, he averaged 7.8 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game, and became just the fifth person ever to lead the NCAA in blocks twice. His margin of 4.15 blocks per game during his career is currently the 13th-best average in college basketball history.

Career Blocked Shot Average (min. 225 blocks)
1. 5.87 – Keith Closs, Central Conn. St. (54 GP, 317 blks.)
2. 5.66 – Adonal Foyle, Colgate (87 GP, 492 blks.)
3. 5.34 – Shawn James, Northeastern/Duquesne (83 GP, 443 blks.)
4. 5.24 – David Robinson, Navy (67 GP, 351 blks.)
5. 4.66 – Mickell Gladness, Alabama A&M (85 GP, 396 blks.)
6. 4.65 – Wojciech Myrda, La.-Monroe (115 GP, 535 blks.)
7. 4.58 – Shaquille O’Neal, LSU (90 GP, 412 blks.)
8. 4.48 – Jerome James, Florida A&M (81 GP, 363 blks.)
9. 4.42 – Deng Gai, Fairfield (100 GP, 442 blks.)
10. 4.28 – Emeka Okafor, UConn (103 GP, 441 blks.)
11. 4.21 – Justin Williams, Wyoming (58 GP, 244 blks.)
12. 4.17 – Hasheem Thabeet, UConn (100 GP, 417 blks.)
13. 4.15 – Jamarion Sharp, Western Ky./Ole Miss (72 GP, 299 blks.)

Among the seven transfers for the Rebels, over half have been to the NCAA Tournament during their collegiate career, with a total of five appearances. Brandon Murray (LSU, 2022 First Round), Austin Nunez (Arizona State, 2023 First Round), and Jaylen Murray (Saint Peter’s, 2022 Elite Eight) have each been to the postseason once in their careers, while Allen Flanigan has been twice (Auburn, 2022 and 2023 Second Round).

The new age of the NCAA often sees heavy roster turnover from year-to-year. While Ole Miss returns five members of last year’s team, they added 11 strong newcomers through the transfer portal and the high school recruiting trail: (stats current to opening day)

Returners (5)
Jaemyn Brakefield – 33 GP, 31 GS, 11.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG
Cam Brent – 2022-23 practice squad member
TJ Caldwell – 31 GP, 7 GS, 4.7 PPG, 1.6 RPG
Robert Cowherd – 2022-23 freshman, redshirted
Matthew Murrell – 30 GP, 29 GS, 14.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG

Transfers (7)
Moussa Cisse – Oklahoma St.; 61 GP, 7.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG
Allen Flanigan – Auburn; 114 GP, 8.5 PPG, 4.2 RPG
Cole McGrath – Blue Mountain; 53 GP, 6.5 PPG, 1.8 RPG
Brandon Murray – Georgetown; 27 GP, 13.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG
Jaylen Murray – St. Peter’s; 62 GP, 8.9 PPG, 2.2 RPG
Austin Nunez – Arizona St.; 28 GP, 4.5 PPG, 1.1 RPG
Jamarion Sharp – Western Ky.; 65 GP, 7.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG

Freshman (4)
Cameron Barnes – Three-star (ESPN, 247, Rivals), No. 147 national (Rivals)
Jacob Gazzo – Three-star (ESPN), No. 3 in Mississippi (ESPN)
Rashaud Marshall – Four-star (ESPN, 247, Rivals), No. 83 national (247)
Gavin Murphy – His high school’s fourth-leading all-time scorer

The Ole Miss men’s basketball coaching staff is one of the more experienced around the country. In his 14th year as a collegiate head coach, Chris Beard is joined on the court by former head coaches Win Case (16 years), Brian Burg (three years), and Wes Flanigan (two years). Assistant coach Bob Donewald Jr. has 16 years of head coaching experience at the professional and national level, while assistant Al Pinkins has been an associate or assistant coach at six different NCAA Division-I programs, including four within the SEC. The Ole Miss coaching staff has experience at five other SEC programs: Auburn, Florida, LSU, Mississippi State, and Tennessee.

Head coach Chris Beard and staff continue to work on securing the future for Ole Miss basketball, and did so with a pair of signees in the NLI early signing period in November:

John Bol • F • 7-1 • Buma • Overtime Elite
Ranked as the second-highest recruit in program history according to 247Sports, Bol is a consensus four-star recruit, ranking as high as No. 38 in the nation by 247Sports and No. 40 by ESPN. He is an elite shot blocker and rebounder who stands at 7’1″ and is able to affect the game on both ends of the floor. Ranked as the top player in the state of Georgia by ESPN, Bol has developed a reputation as one of the hardest playing big men in the country.

Eduardo Klafke • G • 6-5 • Fanca-Sao Paulo, Brazil • NBA Academy Latin America
A combo guard from the prestigious NBA Academy Latin America, Klafke will come to Oxford from Franca-Sao Paulo, Brazil. One of the top international players in his age group, he has consistently played above his age while representing Brazil on the national stage, playing in U19 games as a 17-year-old. Klafke will help bring a spark to the offense as an elite shooter and is excellent in playing both on and off the ball.

Evelyn Van Pelt

Evelyn Van Pelt

Evelyn has covered sports for over two decades, beginning her journalism career as a sports writer for a newspaper in Austin, Texas. She attended Texas A&M and majored in English. Evelyn’s love for Ole Miss began when her daughter Katie attended the university on a volleyball scholarship. Evelyn created the Rebel Walk in 2013 and has served as publisher and managing editor since its inception.

About The Author

Evelyn Van Pelt

Evelyn has covered sports for over two decades, beginning her journalism career as a sports writer for a newspaper in Austin, Texas. She attended Texas A&M and majored in English. Evelyn's love for Ole Miss began when her daughter Katie attended the university on a volleyball scholarship. Evelyn created the Rebel Walk in 2013 and has served as publisher and managing editor since its inception.

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