Ole Miss' season has been the story of playing from behind, and they've bore down often enough that opening deficits are never fixed realities. And so BYU learned the hard way that Andy Kennedy's locker-room oratory can inspire his men to ball, ball, ball with 20 minutes to scrap. The Rebels rallied from a 17-point deficit in Tuesday's NCAA Tournament play-in game, roaring back for a 94-90 win and a date with 6-seed Xavier in the second round.
The story of the night was second-half adjustments -- the Basketbears implemented a style of ball wholly different from what we've seen prior to Tuesday night. And different not just in the sense that they sunk a lot of shots and won the contest.
To say that BYU's perimeter shooting was on fire for the first 20 minutes would be a horrific understatement. Tyler Haws and Chase Fischer combined to outscore the Rebels on their own in the first period. AK apparently felt the Rebs' zone defense could best handle the Cougars' run-and-gun at the outset, so BYU's snipers improvised by stepping back -- at times four or five feet beyond the arc -- and flushed 10 of their first 15 three-balls.
So AK made adjustments. Ole Miss increasingly offered man defense in the second half, which allowed Rebel defenders to stick harder on their marks and force either hasty shots or sloppy passes that went intercepted. The Rebs logged eight damn steals in Dayton, four of which in a three-minute second-half span that saw them go from down 7 to up 2 for their first lead of the game.
The second half also saw Ole Miss deploy an inside game that, if we're being honest, hasn't shown up in months. BYU runs a hybrid sort of line-up, which lists four guards and a lone center/forward/wrecking ball as their on-floor personnel. In this way, they stretch the perimeter and locate a hot hand everywhere around the dogleg. This airy approach paid off well in the first half, when the Cougars shot 57 percent from the field, but on a long enough timeline, that basket gets smaller and smaller in turns. And coupled with the Rebs' stifling defense, those previously open BYU looks soon foreclosed until there was nowhere to turn.
Give the Cougars credit: they did their homework on Stefan Moody, Jarvis Summers and -- to a certain extent -- Snoop White. Ole Miss' big three were virtually silent in the opening period, seemingly crushed under the weight of BYU's outside defense. So, perpetually-looks-like-his-car-is-getting-towed AK changed the game-plan. Let Stefan or Jarvis take the dribble inside -- as is expected -- but then, with defenders converging, zing, drop the dime to M.J. Rhett or Dwight Coleby or Sebastian Saiz. The Rebels dished 24 assists against BYU and monster-man Rhett threw down a season-high 20 points.
The Rebels' size advantage also served them well in the rebounding column. Ole Miss out-boarded the Cougars 54-44, and their 14 offensive rebounds -- though going mostly nowhere in the first half -- created enough second chances to steal shot clocks from BYU's sprint-and-shoot tornado.
Tuesday's affair was a physical one, to the extent that both squads entered the double bonus with six minutes left in the game. Fifty free throws were awarded on the night, with the Rebels going 15-of-23 from the gimme stripe. Rhett fouled out, but not before contributing three blocks to the Rebs' total of six.
The Rebels have now earned themselves a friendly Big Dance meet-and-greet with Xavier in the second round on Thursday, March 19th, at 3:10 p.m. CT. The game will air on TBS, and the Musketeers know a thing or two about physical basketball. Get turnt, y'all.