Unable to rely on the points and rebounds so readily provided by Stefan Moody and Sebastian Saiz, Ole Miss wasn't expected to offer much resistance during Mississippi State's march to its first SEC win of the year. Instead, through a combination of good three-point and free-throw shooting, a constantly shifting zone defense, and general Andy Kennedy wizardry, the Rebels at least made the Bulldogs wonder if they were ever going to beat Ole Miss at anything again, before everything faded to black for the visitors in the 83-77 loss.
The loss drops Ole Miss to 12-7 (2-5 SEC) and almost certainly means that the Rebels are playing to host a first-round NIT game in March, barring a staggering run through the rest of the regular season or the SEC Tournament.
Given the rock-fight theme that usually applies to Ole Miss and State basketball games, it was a surprisingly entertaining game. Both teams shot exceptionally well from beyond the three-point line (a combined 22 of 44) and at times executed on offense like a pair of teams that received their vaccinations for #SECBasketballFever.
Unfortunately for Ole Miss, the lack of Moody and Saiz was too much for the field goal percent-challenged offense to overcome (38.1 percent from the floor), as they couldn't keep pace with Mississippi State in the second half. Malik Newman, who you may recall is pretty good at this basketball thing, shifted into NBA Jam "HE'S ON FIRE" mode, hitting six three-pointers in the final 20 minutes (seven for the game) on his way to a career-high 25 points.
Ole Miss' only hope in the midst of such shooting was that Newman went cold (he did not), declared for the NBA Draft (he did not), or was answered by the duo of Rasheed Brooks and Anthony Perez (kind of!). Both put in quite an effort, especially Brooks (20 points on 8-of-15 shooting), shaking off his disastrous shooting performance against South Carolina, but it wasn't enough.
It's another loss for Ole Miss, but considering the challenge that faced them, the team responded quite well. Without their two best players, as well as Martavious Newby, they avoided a complete meltdown and kept things competitive until the very end, which should serve them well when Moody, Saiz, and Newby all return.
Here are three quick things we learned from the loss.
1. Why yes, Andy Kennedy can get another 10,000 miles out of that old Taurus
It may be a '92 forest-green piece of clunk from Ford that's coughing out engine parts or a basketball team missing the two players it cannot afford to have out, but the Ole Miss coach will find a way to keep things running. Granted, this Mississippi State team wasn't very good, but neither was today's version of Ole Miss.
An outstanding job by Kennedy and staff in getting the team ready to play and do so very well at times. Not an easy thing to do with players who haven't been heavily relied upon and played in unfamiliar combinations.
2. Rasheed Brooks will be fine
After a brutal 0-of-10 performance against South Carolina, Brooks responded by leading his team in scoring on a day when it desperately needed a scorer. Whatever his problems were Tuesday night, he cast those aside and looked like a legitimate second or third scoring option when Moody and Saiz return.
3. Did Ole Miss stumble into point guard depth?
Without Stefan Moody, the Rebels were forced to rely on Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey and Sam Finley to run the offense, which, going into today's game, was less than ideal. DFD (I am not typing that whole name out again) looked to be in control of himself, scoring 16 points and adding four assists to only two turnovers, and his length on top of the zone really bothered Mississippi State.
Finley, who came into the game having played a TOTAL of six minutes in SEC action, saw 18 minutes on the floor and also looked like he knew what he was doing. He didn't have a great shooting day (2 of 9), but he scratched his way to 10 points, three assists, and only one turnover.
Ole Miss needs to be able to rest Moody a little more than they have been, and developing competent backup point guard depth will help make that happen.