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Ole Miss knocks off Memphis for second-straight year, 85-77

The Rebs are 6-2 more than halfway though the non-conference slate.

NCAA Basketball: Memphis at Mississippi Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

A back-and-forth, foul-laden affair saw Ole Miss prevail over Memphis on Saturday, 85-77. Sebastian Saiz and Deandre Burnett led all Rebel scorers with 20 and 19 points, respectively. Eight of Burnett’s came from the charity stripe.

Journeyman legend coach Tubby Smith is in his first year heading up Memphis hoops, and his Tigers are ranked 97th in KenPom’s offensive efficiency ratings. He’s enjoying the services of Dedric and K.J. Lawson this season, who are currently averaging 37 points and 20 rebounds per game combined.

Ole Miss took a 47-37 first half advantage with the help of a handful of runs, an attractive three-point buzzer-beater by Cullen Neal, and some Saiz heroics. The bespectacled Spaniard led all Rebel scorers into recess with 13 points and seven rebounds, and his three hoop-and-harm followups down low provided a much needed spark in the opening period.

The Rebs stretched the lead to 12 in the first four minutes of the second period, and Saiz added three quick boards to achieve his fourth double-double this season. Still, Memphis just wouldn’t go away, riding a 13-0 run out of the under-16 timeout to pull back within one.

From there, Ole Miss virtually melted off both ends of the court through the middle of the frame, allowing Memphis to build out a five-point lead with eight minutes to go. In what was indicative of the entire game, though, Ole Miss fought their way back into it to regain a 12-point advantage with three minutes left, whence free throws and the game clock sealed the Tigers’ fate.

Here are three quick takeaways from Saturday’s W in Oxford.

This team is still searching for an identity.

Yes, Saiz and Deandre Burnett have emerged as early leaders in the non-conference schedule, and they must continue to produce as the season wears on. AK had started Neal at the point through the first seven games, but after his four-point effort against Middle Tennessee, Kennedy elected to go with Breein Tyree at the helm.

All of which is to say: the Basketbears are still in need of a game-to-game script. Saiz has three games of 20+ points, but he also has three games of eight or fewer points. Terence Davis has four double-digit scoring games, but also games of eight, seven and three points.

Who are the Rebs’ role players, and what are their roles? Can Rasheed Brooks string together a solid two- or three-game stretch? Considering that he’s averaging 25 minutes per game, he needs to play with more consistency.

Where is the defensive cohesion?

The defense requires more chemistry and minutes if it’s going to stay competitive in conference play. Andy Kennedy likes to load his defensive looks with variety, which can be an asset for teams that execute those variations well.

Too often, though, Ole Miss’ zones were sucked to one side of the court, leaving the backdoor open for Tigers scorers. In man sets, the Rebs were easily scrubbed on consecutive Memphis possessions, again leaving scorers open for pass-and-points.

One encouraging stat features Ole Miss’ seven blocks. Saiz had three rejections and Marcanvis Hymon had four before fouling out. That’s good hustle, sure, but also a testament to Memphis’ small-ball rotations.

Terence Davis, what you doing fam?

Tied at 68 with Memphis firmly in control of both sides of the floor and six minutes remaining, the Rebs managed a steal and breakaway pass to Davis who, well, did something.

It’s understandable that the Southaven native would hope to set the team and arena off with a big-time dunk, but maybe elect to go for a windmill or 180 next time. He shot 7-of-7 from the free throw line, but that’s probably not going to keep him from getting an Andy Kennedy earful for that missed attempt. Let’s call it a learning experience.

The Basketbears are next in action on Dec. 11, when they’ll take on Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The Hokies are ranked No. 32 by KenPom currently, just one below South Carolina. It’ll be a good one.