After the Rebels lost 65-62 at Middle Tennessee Saturday, the word “hungry” was thrown around a bit relating to the Blue Raiders.
In theory, when a mid-major from the Southeast faces an SEC team – particularly in its building – it plays harder and with more desire than it might otherwise.
The difference with Middle and some other mid-majors from around the region is that Middle has the goods to compete.
Middle coach Kermit Davis called it a “SEC, physical, half-court, grind-it-out game.”
Here’s what he said about the importance of his program winning against an SEC team: “It’s critical. I thought we had a great crowd tonight. It just kind of solidifies your program, especially when you can win in front of a crowd like that at home. It’s a great RPI game. All those games are critical down the stretch. We’ve been tested a bunch this year so far. In our region, winning an SEC game like that, it just helps your recruiting and every aspect of your program.”
In his postgame session Andy Kennedy didn’t buy into the idea that Middle’s hunger made the difference in the outcome, and he outlined why it was just as big a game for Ole Miss.
“This was a huge game for both parties. I wanted to see how we would respond to this tough, senior-oriented team. Middle’s got to be the most experienced team in college basketball. They play nine or 10 guys, and they’re all upperclassmen. They’ve got six seniors that play. They’re very, very good. That’s the reason I scheduled the game. I have a personal relationship with Kermit, but also, I knew we were going to be tested.I knew the environment, when you get an SEC opponent in your building that people would be excited. I was looking forward to see how we would respond. I liked the fact that we played with energy. I liked the fact that we competed till the end. Our execution failed us.”
Kennedy went on to say he may have done his team a “disservice” by waiting too late to go on the road. That wasn’t by design, but just the way the schedule fell, he said.