Andy Kennedy didn't pull any punches in his post-game press conference about the performance of his Ole Miss Rebels, who dug themselves a 29-point halftime hole they couldn’t climb out of against Middle Tennessee State. A typically candid AK called the first 20 minutes of basketball “unacceptable.”
"We've got to bow up, and we've got to fight," Kennedy said. "Two kinds of people in this world, fighters and flyers. I'm a fighter... This team's going to fight."
The encouraging thing about Wednesday night’s home loss is that the team indeed fought back in the second half of its eventual 77-62 loss. Not enough to win, but enough to inspire hope that the first half—which saw the Rebels miss their first eight shots from the field and turn the ball over 13 times—was an aberration that will provide valuable teaching points.
“Looked as if we’d seen a ghost,” AK said of his post-game locker room. “I told ‘em ‘What you’ve seen is yourself. Just seen our reflection. Don’t like what we see.’ Maybe I should have pulled a mirror out quicker.”
Here are three things Ole Miss (which is now 5-2 heading into an 11 a.m. Saturday tip-off against Memphis) should have glimpsed in the mirror on Wednesday.
1. The perimeter defense needs to be shored up.
In Ole Miss' two losses, the Rebels allowed their opponents to shoot 55 percent or higher from behind the arc, which is no surprise to anyone who has followed AK's reign at Ole Miss. He typically uses a 2-3 zone that conserves the team’s legs but allows for open outside shots. MTSU shot 9-of-16 from 3-point range, which built an insurmountable lead by halftime. The Rebels HAVE to close out defensively on long-range shots in the 2-3 and be cognizant of who is hot/not to improve defensively. Teams being able to shoot more efficiently from 3 than 2 should be an anomaly, rather than a disturbing trend for this season.
2. Ball security is an issue.
The Rebels managed to turn the ball over 13 times in the first half, which boosted MTSU's points off turnovers to a whopping 15 for the game. Where have I seen that number before? 15, hmm? Oh, that's the exact margin of victory. The Rebels locked it down in the second half and ended the game with 16 turnovers, which is right in line with its season average of 16.5. Unfortunately, MTSU only allowed seven turnovers to its credit. This is another area of concern Kennedy has spoken to in previous games, but there doesn't yet seem to be a trend in a positive direction.
3. Tyree deserves more minutes.
The offensive spark needed by the Rebels to mount a comeback came from none other than a freshman: Breein Tyree. It seems pretty clear Ole Miss doesn't have a traditional point guard option, but if Tyree's second-half efforts are any indication of what he can do running the show, it’s time to give him more minutes on the floor. The former top-200 recruit scored 8 points in the first five minutes of the second half, finishing with 11 for the game in only 16 minutes of play. Team Speed Kills thinks he could eventually be the Rebels’ next big scoring threat.
If I'm Andy Kennedy, I'm looking Tyree’s way, as Rasheed Brooks has shown only flashes of scoring ability again this year. Cullen Neal and Deandre Burnett chipped in 13 and 15, respectively, with many more minutes on the court. Coming off of a terrible half of basketball, Tyree was a breath of fresh air, and his performance should serve as a wake-up call to the other guards that their starting position or minutes are not safe.