Ole Miss Avoids Destructive Resume Loss With Comeback Win at VandyPosted by rtmsf on January 16th, 2013
David Changas (@dchangas) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt in Nashville.
Prior to the season, the Ole Miss Rebels were picked to once again finish in the middle of the pack in the SEC. Little did anyone know that the league would be quite as bad as it has been, with preseason favorite Kentucky leading a throng of disappointing teams that may miss the NCAA Tournament. Given his track record of not having made the Big Dance in his first six seasons in Oxford, it was reasonable to assume that Andy Kennedy’s squad would once again be left out. But the Rebels brought a gaudy 13-2 record and an improving RPI into Tuesday’s contest against Vanderbilt in icy Nashville, and with it the hope that this could be the year Kennedy gets the monkey off his back. With a pre-conference schedule filled with an array of cupcakes and losses only to top-50 RPI mid-majors Indiana State and Middle Tennessee State, it was reasonable to be skeptical about whether this Rebels team was any different than some of Kennedy’s prior squads which, though talented, never did enough to qualify for the Tournament.
What we did not know about the Rebels coming into the season – and what appears to separate this team from prior Rebel teams – is that they would have a difference-making scorer who could lead them from NIT mainstay to SEC contender. But in junior transfer Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss has just that, and he proved it in the grandest way possible on Tuesday. The Rebels’ 10-point overtime victory in Nashville is one that they clearly were expected to get, especially given that they were coming off a blowout win at Tennessee and a 15-point win at home on Saturday against #10 Missouri. In that game, the Rebels held the Tigers to 36% shooting from the field and forced 19 turnovers en route to a 64-49 victory. But given the way Tuesday’s contest unfolded, this is the type of win that could propel Ole Miss to bigger things, signaling that the Rebels can win on nights when they are not at their best.
After Vanderbilt’s Kevin Bright hit a contested three from the corner to give the Commodores a 78-75 lead with 3.2 seconds left, Henderson countered with a 35-footer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime, allowing the Rebels to overcome a first half barrage that saw the Commodores sink 12 of 20 three-point attempts, a 13-point deficit with under nine minutes to play, and, most importantly, a sloppy performance that clearly was not worthy of their efforts against Tennessee and Missouri. In the extra frame, Ole Miss was dominant, as it held Vanderbilt, which shot a woeful 10-of-23 from the free throw line, to a single point. Kennedy was pleased with the way his team overcame its struggles. “It shows that we do have resolve,” he said. “We don’t have to play our ‘A’ game to still find a way to win. There are going to be nights like this. I was just proud our guys continued to battle.”
Kennedy returned a lot from last year’s team, which finished 20-14 and lost to Illinois State in the first round of the NIT. The Rebels lost their two leading scorers, Terrance Henry and Dundrecous Nelson, but added Henderson, who is at his third school after transferring from Utah and Texas Tech, where he never played. The ever-confident Henderson (“I knew when [Vanderbilt] made it I was going to come down and make a shot to send it to overtime.”), whose reputation as a player everyone loves to hate is not lost on the Hurst, Texas, native. He explained his reasoning for carrying a cocky persona: “I don’t want to be just another guy on the team who can shoot threes.” Henderson has extensive range, and he leads the Rebels in scoring this season at 18.6 points per game. He also ranks third nationally by making nearly four three-pointers per contest. He shoots as often as he can, and knocks down a respectable 36.1% of his threes.
On the interior, Ole Miss is led by senior forward Murphy Holloway. The 6’7″ native of Irmo, South Carolina, is one of only a handful of players in the country averaging a double-double (16.1 PPG, 10.8 RPG). A fifth-year senior who transferred from Ole Miss to South Carolina but never played there before transferring back to Oxford, Holloway is a physical presence who, along with fellow senior Reginald Buckner (10.1 PPG, 7.8 RPG), was a go-to option in the Rebels’ second-half comeback. Ole Miss also has the luxury of an experienced point guard. Though he is only a sophomore, Jarvis Summers is a steady presence who has played a lot of minutes since setting foot on campus in the fall of 2011. He leads the team with 3.5 assists per game, and has an impressive four-to-one A:TO ratio. He is also effective enough from the perimeter to keep defenses honest. Freshman Derrick Millinghaus has given Kennedy good minutes as Summers’ backup. The Rebels have also gotten solid backcourt contributions from freshman guard Martavious Newby and sophomore guard Ladarius White. They rely on fifth-year senior forward Nick Williams and sophomore forward Aaron Jones down low. On Tuesday, freshman forward Anthony Perez came off the bench and sparked the Ole Miss comeback with a huge three to cut Vanderbilt’s nine-point lead to six. That shot came in the midst of a 17-3 run that saw Ole Miss turn an 11-point deficit into a three-point lead.
A peek ahead at the schedule sees Arkansas and Tennessee come to Oxford, followed by a trip to Auburn and then a visit from Kentucky. The Rebels will be favored to start their SEC slate 7-0 before a trip to play the league’s most accomplished team, Florida in Gainesville. Given the dismal performance of much of the league so far, it is conceivable that the Rebels could rise up to become a surprising 25-win team. While it may be premature to make that proclamation, Kennedy has an experienced, talented squad that, on paper, should win most of its remaining games.
It is certainly too early to coronate the Rebels, especially given their lengthy track record of disappointment. Still, this is Kennedy’s most talented team, and the addition of Henderson appears to be what will separate it from the previous clubs that have come up just short of the NCAA Tournament. The SEC does not provide many opportunities for quality wins, but Ole Miss avoided in dramatic fashion what could have been a devastating loss on Tuesday. And while a defeat to Vanderbilt would have been more harmful to its resume than the win will be helpful, the fact that Kennedy’s team learned a lesson in the importance of being ready every night in conference play is a big step for a program desperate to return to the only postseason play that matters.