Ole Miss knocked a big old monkey off their back in Oxford with a nail-biter win over Florida, 72-71. Five-star recruit Malik Newman was in the house to watch Andy Kennedy’s men grind one out against a Gator squad that’s played spotty basketball this season. After last February’s 75-71 heartbreaker – in which Marshall Henderson went off with 22 points – Saturday’s win keeps Ole Miss’s precarious NCAA tournament hopes alive, if Joe Lunardi is to be believed:
FIRST OUT: Washington, George Washington, Davidson, BYU. NEXT OUT: Temple, UConn, Illinois, Ole Miss.— Joe Lunardi (@ESPNLunardi) January 24, 2015
After losing to Georgia this week, the Rebs took an early 8-0 Florida run on the chin and bore down for some refreshingly hard-nosed basketball. A couple of timely runs before and after recess kept Ole Miss in the game as Billy Donovan’s Gators waned in the second half.
Don’t be misled, however: this contest was tight, tight, tight to the end. With 26 seconds to go, Jarvis Summers drained an absurdly long twofer that put Ole Miss up 70-69. After a Snoop White hack at the other end, Florida’s Michael Frazier II dropped both free-throws, which left the Rebels nine seconds to run the floor for the win. Summers delivered yet again by earning a trip to the free-throw line and swishing both attempts. Game, Rebels.
Except for Kentucky (6-0 in the conference), this season’s SEC basketball field is chaos incarnate. Still, the Rebels’ performance on Saturday hit upon some important trends that, if pushed steadily, could land them a date for the Big Dance.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. Consistency in the half-court serves Ole Miss well.
The Rebels’ downtown shooters turned gun-shy against Georgia mere days after blowing up Arkansas from beyond the arc; they shot 8-of-15 in Fayetteville and 4-of-18 in Athens. Their 6-of-21 three-pointers against Florida, though, conceals a surprising amount of long two-pointers that, if missed, might otherwise brick up offensive production for squat. Summers sank two impressive field goals from just inside the crescent, one of which proved the pivotal Ole Miss score with under 30 seconds left. Thanks, Jarvis.
Further, please give a round of applause for Terence Smith, who jumped off the bench for three treys, three rebounds, and 11 total points. Snoop White contributed a three of his own, while someone named Anthony Perez flushed from outside and in so doing ignited a 7-0 Ole Miss run early in the second half.
Defensively, the Rebs got pokey around the midcourt stripe and caused 13 turnovers to the Gators’ nine.
2. The Rebs love to spread the love.
As was the case against Arkansas, where five Rebel shooters tossed in double-digit performances, Saturday’s tussle featured four Ole Miss players with 10-plus points: Summers, Smith, White, and Dwight damn Coleby let the clutch out to account for 50 of the Rebels’ total 72. (Speaking of Dwight Coleby, my dude also hauled in six boards and four, yes four, blocks; you are my Godzilla, Dwight.) Fancy stat of the night: Ole Miss’ bench outscored Florida’s 40-19.
To put the Rebels’ distribution in perspective, Florida guard Michael Frazier II scored a season-high 27 points and the Gators collectively tallied their season's best three-point night with 7-of-10 from out in the county. Yet, despite Dorian Finney-Smith running rough-shod for 14 points in the first half, despite Florida finding frequent holes in Ole Miss’ zone down low, despite Sebastian Saiz disappearing for zero points and one rebound in the game, the Rebels' depth prevailed at Tad Smith, which hasn’t been a common occurrence this season.
3. Free throws, free throws, free throws.
Penalty shots literally won this game. If, like me, you stomped on the bar of your local dive after each of Jarvis’ winning free-throws, please have a bourbon on the house. Ole Miss’s free-throw percentage now tends toward 80 percent and continues to sit tops in the country. It’s no surprise, then, that the Rebs made Florida pay for their fouls, out-shooting the Gators 84 percent to 63 percent from the charity stripe.
With Saturday’s win, the Rebels evened their conference record to 3-3 (12-7 overall). On a weekend that hosted a goodly number of football croots, a raucous victory party in Oxford can’t hurt the program’s hopes for future Rebs. And hey, guess what? Ole Miss hosts State on Wednesday for some good-ole-fashioned brawlin’.