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Ole Miss scoots by Missouri narrowly at home, 80-77

The Rebels avoid catastrophe and keep their already slim tournament hopes alive.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

An 80-77 win over a very bad Mizzou club probably doesn't do much for the country’s bracketologists. The storyline for Saturday’s Ole Miss-Missouri game quickly unraveled from taking care of business against a terrible team to one of triggering panic from fans.

The Rebels led for all but six minutes of game time, yet an upset never felt out of reach. A horde of super-intelligent commenters had been waiting for a concrete reason to jump on Andy Kennedy, and they almost got what they wanted this afternoon.

A win is a win, no matter how unwatchable. Ole Miss fans needed positive sports-related feelings injected into their veins this weekend for reasons we don’t need to get into, and that’s what they got.

Both teams shot under 40 percent from the field in the first half, which would have prompted a wave of #SECBasketballFever tweets had this game been nationally televised. But as much as the refs tried to destroy anything resembling a rhythm in the second half, both offenses underwent a transformation after the break, each scoring more than 1.4 points per possession.

One would think that for Missouri to contend, it would have to involve a slow-paced rockfight, but the second half was far from it. They lit the Rebels up from all over the court down the stretch, but fortunately it wasn’t enough.

On occasion, Ole Miss can still shoot well from deep.

Coming into the game, the Rebels were 12th in the conference in three-point field goal percentage. Fans had become accustomed to seeing points come from other places, either from the foul line or from generating quality looks near the rim. Ole Miss made 11 of their 21 three-point attempts (52 percent), and was somehow less efficient from closer to the hoop (36 percent from two).

Much of the production from beyond the arc came from Deandre Burnett, but Rasheed Brooks and Sebastian Saiz’s pick-and-pop game helped out as well. Burnett was coming off a 1-13 performance against State on Tuesday, so it was nice to see him bounce back and produce 28 points on just 11 shots. A chunk of the threes were generated from nice spacing and ball movement, but others were simply contested shots that happened to go in.

The team’s season average of 31 percent from three is enough reason to pause on hoping for this to be a sustainable trend.

The defense came apart in the second half.

Before Saturday, Missouri’s Frankie Hughes was averaging seven points per game on 29 percent shooting from the field. Against Ole Miss, he put up 22 points and made 5 of 11 three pointers, sinking eight consecutive buckets at one point in the second half.

The Rebels have a way of making what are supposed to be mediocre scorers look like legitimate threats at times. Overall, the perimeter defense was fine, limiting the Tigers to 33 percent from deep, but their overall field goal percentage jumped from 30 to 57 percent between halves. Rim protection was the issue this time, as Missouri made 10 of their 14 layup attempts in the second half.

The offense needs to find more ways to produce.

This marks the second consecutive game that the Rebels have overcome poor overall shooting from the field by getting points through other avenues. Despite an uncharacteristically hot outing from three, Ole Miss scored on less than half of their possessions, and relied heavily on free throws and offensive rebounds to get the win.

The Rebels attempted 15 more free throws than the Tigers, which is great when you can do that consistently, but you need alternatives when refs won’t blow the whistle at any type of contact. Missouri had been allowing 67 percent of shots near the rim to go in, so this wasn’t a game in which post enforcers like Saiz should have been pushed out.

Each of the Rebels’ remaining conference opponents are much more formidable than Missouri, so Saturday’s near slip-up is hopefully just an anomaly. Hopefully.