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New look Ole Miss Rebels blast Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

Andy Kennedy challenged his team. And they responded.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Middle Tennessee State Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Andy Kennedy wasn’t happy with the effort his Rebels have shown over the past three weeks of the season. After suffering three overtime home losses, he let the players decide who would start Tuesday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. In practice Tuesday, the red team consisting of Justas Furmanavicius, Dominik Olejniczak, Devontae Shuler, Deandre Burnett, and D. C. Davis won a scrimmage. So they got the start.

Ole Miss came out hot in the first half, making nine threes to go up 50-31 at intermission before winning 85-63. The starters scored 31 of the 50 points in the first half, and the new bench mob took to their role, scoring 35 points on 13-of-23 shooting on the night.

Tonight might have been the kick on the backside the team needed.

The typical starting five for Ole Miss—Marcanvis Hymon, Bruce Stevens, Breein Tyree, Terence Davis, and Markel Crawford—got to sit for the first five minutes of the game. They saw their minutes decrease as a result of poor effort in recent contests, but once they came on the floor, there was a noticeable difference in intensity from past games.

Communication improved and players began rotating quicker on defense. The Rebels’ Eastern Bloc contingent looks to be finding their touch going 11-of-15 and scoring 30 points and grabbing seven rebounds. That kind of production is Christmas come early for Andy Kennedy and his front court.

TAMU-Corpus Christi is bad.

We shouldn’t sugarcoat this. The Islanders have won 20 or more games in three consecutive seasons, but that streak is coming to an end shortly. TAMU-CC beat Our Lade of the Lake by one to start the season and have not recorded a Division-I win. KenPom has the Islanders finishing 8-10 in the 5th-worst league in college basketball. But, after the worst three week non-conference stretch in Andy Kennedy’s time in Oxford, all wins are good.

The next four games may decide the season.

Ole Miss hosts Bradley this Friday before getting South Carolina at home on New Year’s Eve. They will then Travel to Georgia, then welcome Mississippi State to Oxford to begin SEC play. This four game stretch will go a long way in calming some fears from fans, or ramping up the heat on Andy Kennedy’s seat. Bradley is no slouch, ranking 109th in KenPom, and South Carolina and Mississippi State provide the Rebs with two of their best chances for home SEC wins all season.

After the basketball Egg Bowl (you may remember Ole Miss won the actual Egg Bowl this year, end zone urinating and all), the schedule ramps up with trips to Auburn, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Tennessee, and a non-con opportunity against Texas. Then, the Rebs will get home games against Florida, Alabama, and Auburn to try and beef up their resume in conference. The worst team the Rebels will face during the entire month of January, according to KenPom, is rated 43rd and they’ll play them twice.

Buckle up, y’all.