TJ’s Takeaways: What We Learned From Ole Miss’ 80-77 Win Over Memphis
Look out. Ole Miss is 7-0 to start the college basketball season and is fresh off a thrilling 80-77 home victory against Memphis. The Rebels are one of two remaining unbeaten teams in the SEC and one of only a few left in all of Division I college basketball. Saturday afternoon, Memphis led the game for over 33 minutes and 27 seconds of action, but it was a never-say-die attitude by Ole Miss that pushed the Rebels ahead in the game’s final minutes.
Jaylen “JuJu” Murray exploded for his second 22-point outing of the season leading the Rebels in their second half comeback. Thirteen of those points came in the second half and in dramatic fashion. Head coach Chris Beard’s team put together their best on-court product to date and made some necessary half-time adjustments to make it all happen. The Rebels also got key production from both Matthew Murrell (20 PTS) and Allen Flanigan (18 PTS).
For Ole Miss, the win could not have come at a better time as the NET Rankings are set to release on Monday, December 4th. The Tigers should provide a high quad opponent based on the Tigers defeating two SEC teams this season in Arkansas and Missouri, as well as Michigan. We’ll see where Ole Miss ends up, but the higher a team is in the NET earlier, the better. Like a college GPA, it’s a lot easier to fall than it is to rise.
This series, TJ’s Takeaways, is here to help identify things that really stand out from the games, things you may not be able to find from a box score. That being said…
Let’s get into the takeaways!
Moussa Cisse Made His Debut Tonight
After being declared eligible earlier this week, Moussa Cisse finally suited up in a game for the Ole Miss Rebels. It might have been expected that he wouldn’t be thrown into playing major minutes, but Cisse logged 15 crucial minutes for Chris Beard tonight. In those 15 minutes, he played an important role — one that the stat sheet won’t tell.
Cisse provided the counterpart to Jamarion Sharp. The duo logged 29 minutes and alternated times on the court creating consistent, yet elite, rim protection for nearly 75% of the time. Cisse ended the game with 2 PTS, 5 REB, and 1 BLK. His bucket came in the second half as JuJu Murray threw him a pass out of a screen that he dunked quickly before Memphis’ stingy defense could arrive to help. On defense, Cisse provided consistent communication and excellent off-ball movement. He even added an element of perimeter defense. Cisse adds that missing spark to this Ole Miss front court when it needs it on defense.
Jaylen Murray Had His Second Breakout
Earlier this year, Murray erupted for 22 points against Detroit Mercy. Today, he accomplished that feat again and in a big way. Murray was the go-to guy for Ole Miss down the stretch. Allen Flanigan, who had been the Rebels’ number one offensive option, was out for portions of the second half, and Murray was the one who consistently found success against the Tigers. Murray finished with a career-high 9 assists and routinely found paint touches for Ole Miss in the second half thanks to his quick first step. Through this, he would find success scoring at all three levels.
It was Murray who made one of the key shots of the game in the form of a long two. Murray drove in, didn’t have what he wanted, dribbled out to the corner and hoisted the long two without hesitation. Following that, he sliced his way into the lane to make a layup that would give Ole Miss the lead with only a few seconds left.
— Ole Miss Men’s Basketball (@OleMissMBB) December 2, 2023
Murray had that alpha mentality that would not be denied and when The Rebel Walk talked with Chris Beard earlier this year, he mentioned how JuJu plays with a chip on his shoulder.
However, while the scoring was impressive in many ways, JuJu also added other elements that one may not have noticed but that helped seal the win. Murray made a key play in the second half when he knocked the ball off Malcom Dandridge’s knee to force a Tiger turnover. Murray also made an impressive play that would tie the game by rising up and knocking out a long Memphis rebound where Matthew Murrell could start his own break to tie the game at 51-51.
Murray did a lot to help Ole Miss come away victorious, and the guard showed why he was so highly sought after in the transfer portal. He drew praise from both coaches after the game.
When they Needed to, this Team Rebounded the Basketball
This Ole Miss basketball team is 7-0, and prior to its win against NC State, the Rebels had their fair share of hiccups along the way. Some things began to trend in the wrong direction for Ole Miss early on, and one of those was Ole Miss’ inability to rebound the basketball. To go even further, the struggles came on the defensive end.
On paper, Ole Miss should be a talented rebounding team. Jamarion Sharp and Moussa Cisse are both good rebounders for their position. Matthew Murrell and Allen Flanigan are both stronger guard/wing players who have a history of rebounding. TJ Caldwell and Robert Cowherd are both known for their work on the boards. Yet, Ole Miss struggled to grab them early on.
The box score for today will actually show you much of the same. Memphis did out-rebound Ole Miss, 42-39. The Tigers also grabbed 16 total offensive rebounds on the day. However, in the game’s final ten minutes, the Rebels limited Memphis to only two of those 16 total offensive rebounds. Correlation doesn’t always equal causation, but in the final ten minutes, Ole Miss outscored Memphis 25-20.
The Tigers scored 18 second-chance points, none of which came after an offensive rebound in the final ten minutes. It takes a collective effort to string this all together; it doesn’t fall on one specific plater. Six Rebels grabbed multiple rebounds in the second half. That does come down from the coach and the empowerment and belief in his players. For that we have to say….
Chris Beard’s Culture is Being Built and It’s Only Getting Started
This is the honesty part. Ole Miss didn’t have to win tonight to show that the culture was being built. They already won game number one of culture week and showed there can be excitement around this men’s program. We can look to the attendance for this game to show that, as well as the legendary Ole Miss figures in attendance in the Pavilion.
The SJB Pavilion is the new “Showtime at the LA Forum” Former Rebs Spotted today: @Dougnikhazy @TerenceDavisJr @Swagulater15 @c_core17 @TerricoWhite5 @ESPN3ALLDAY @SuccessfulQuon @thomas_dillard7 and of course @JPatterson__8 🔴🔵🔴🔵🔴🔵
— Denson Hollis (@DensonHollisOM) December 2, 2023
However, this win amplifies it. Everything Chris Beard has done to this point was to show what this environment can be like and get everyone excited about Ole Miss men’s basketball. Even if Ole Miss lost down the stretch, people would still be excited based on how well this team played.
This team didn’t lose, though. They won a game that will be a quality resume win in front of what was an official “sold-out” crowd, one that has fans buzzing about basketball.
However, this just isn’t a milestone. This is the new standard.
In order to build this culture, everyone has to be on board, and wins get everyone aligned. Everything Coach Beard said has showed that this isn’t the goal — he and his team know where they want to be and that’s playing in mid-to-late March. Get excited, Ole Miss fans. It’s just getting started!
TJ Oxley is the Vice President of Operations and the Director of Community Relations for The Rebel Walk. He is also the Director of Basketball Content and Senior Basketball Writer. He has over five years of experience providing in-depth analysis of college basketball through multiple platforms. A former MBA graduate of Ole Miss, TJ started with The Rebel Walk in 2019.