What is it about Ole Miss basketball and the city of Charleston? 367 days ago, Charleston Southern took the Rebels to overtime and eventually prevailed, 66-65, on a Cedrick Bowen buzzer-beating dunk. Flash forward to 2015, and the Basketbears drop a much less contested scrap to George Mason, 68-62, in a tournament that could have afforded them a run at Oklahoma State and Virginia.
But, no. After failing to clean up George Mason (1-2) -- who, mind you, got slapped around by Colgate last week -- Ole Miss' netmen find themselves 2-1 on the season and on the wrong side of the Charleston Classic bracket, while Oklahoma State slipped easily into the winners' pool. The Rebs will now face something called "Towson" Friday at 2:30 p.m. CT, and if they win then and on Sunday they will have finished fifth in the standings.
With Andy Kennedy dressed in what can best be described as "basketball coach's leisure suit," the Rebel men never dictated the gameflow in Chucktown. They never led by more than two and in the second half played from behind for all but the first two minutes of the period. A mini-run with about a minute left brought the Rebs within one, 61-60, but George Mason iced things down to finish the day on a 7-2 dash.
The difference in this game was ... the Patriots' Shevon Thompson underneath.
This very blog has warned against Ole Miss' size disadvantage, and on Thursday they got seared in the post. George Mason juggernaut Shevon Thompson is a very, very large man at 6'11, and when he shoots 80 percent from the floor for 19 points and 16 rebounds besides, opposing teams need to find ways to either put him into foul trouble or control the outside-in passing lanes. Defensively, Thompson had three blocks, one of which he stuffed back into Sebastian Saiz's nose on a last-minute layup attempt.
But stop Thompson the Rebs could not. Nor really anyone else, for that matter. Ole Miss' man defense was soft and gummed up. The zone -- AK's primary means of containment -- was porous and amoebic. Their nine steals might look nice on a box score, but converting them into points is a wholly different matter, Martavious Newby.
The MVP was ... nobody. Nobody was the MVP.
Alright, maybe a case could be made for J.T. Escobar, whose three splashdowns from outside accounted for half of the Rebs' total of six three pointers on the day. Still, my guy's 11 points, one assist and, randomly, one rebound sit a few floors below Snoop White levels of sixth man contributions. Stefan Moody led all Rebel scorers with 18 points, but he played ghostlike for stretches and only pulled the trigger 12 times. Nor am I entirely sure what Anthony Perez was doing out there hucking off three attempts from downtown, of which he connected on exactly zero. Or Sam Finley, whose 15 field goal attempts this outing would have been a welcome addition to the cause had more than four of them found the net.
Know what? Whatever. The boys dropped an early head-scratcher last year and they were bound to do it again this year. Learn from it. Shore up the defense and get crisper on offense. Move faster in transition and get the ball to the hot hand. Play the game that AK built you play, and everything will be fine. It's fine. We're fine. Everything is fine.