If you turned this game off at halftime, no one can really blame you. Ole Miss trailed BYU by 17 and was making the same mistakes it had for the last few weeks: poor perimeter defense, missed free throws and bad shooting. But a furious Rebel rally fueled by tight defense and dominance in the paint ended in a rather miraculous 94-90 comeback victory.
Ole Miss advances to face Xavier in the second round on Thursday night in Jacksonville, Fla.
It's hard to put into words just how bad the first half went. BYU's three-point percentage (67) was more than double that of Ole Miss' field goal percentage (30). While the Cougars rained shots from the outside, the Rebs couldn't pry the cover off the hoop -- I counted at least four occasions that Ole Miss missed a gimme putback basket.
But then the second half happened. The Rebel defense stiffened, nabbing seven steals and slowing BYU's shooting to a manageable 40 percent. At the same time, the Ole Miss offense started finding a rhythm down low. It was basically the same play over and over again: a guard would drive the lane, then dish to M.J. Rhett -- who posted a season-high 20 points -- for a wide open dunk.
A friend of mine texted me midway through the second half: "it's like in Semi-Pro when they invented the alley-oop and the other team had no clue how to defend it." The Rebs put up 30 points in the paint in the second half and outscored BYU 42-12 in the paint over the course of the game.
The Rebs went from down 17 to up two in a span of less than 13 minutes. Ole Miss shot 60 percent in the second half and hung 62 points. Talk about a turnaround.
Ole Miss shot 60% in 2nd half after shooting only 30% in 1st half... Here's its 2nd-half shot chart pic.twitter.com/Ck0SrFBvFc— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 18, 2015
After an 0-3 start, Stefan Moody drilled 10 of his next 15 shots to finish for a team-high 26 points.
I said coming into the game that the key for Ole Miss would be owning the defensive glass and avoiding turnovers -- essentially not allowing one of the nation's best offenses any extra opportunities for points. And even in that disastrous first half, the Rebs did that: they had only four turnovers and BYU didn't have a single offensive board (though you can't really get boards when you hit every shot). When BYU started to cool off in the second half, those things started to make the difference.
You have to give it up to this Rebel team -- not only did they overcome the double-digit halftime deficit, they bounced back from having lost four of their last five games, including that back-breaker against South Carolina in Nashville. The word "resiliency" comes to mind.
And you know what this means, right?
Andy Kennedy is about to destroy the Dayton, Ohio bar scene. #GoRebs— Austin Blunt (@Austin_Blunt32) March 18, 2015