Notes and thoughts from the Rebels’ 87-74 loss to Kentucky …
How quickly emotion can turn in this sport or any other.
The Rebels were 6-0 in the league with hopes of a matchup of conference unbeatens this weekend at No. 4 Florida, which is at home tonight against South Carolina.
Now they lose to Kentucky – which is no shame – but they lose more than a game with two key players going down with injury. The status if senior guard Nick Williams and sophomore forward Aaron Jones is unclear, but the early prognosis is not good. MRIs are being performed today.
Ole Miss at full strength would have been a solid underdog against Florida. It’s hard to imagine an upset win there now. So the likelihood is the Rebels come back 6-2 in the league and will be looking to regain their momentum Feb. 6 at home against Mississippi State.
Ole Miss is going to hit a stretch of games where it has no margin for error. It’s going to have to beat the bottom tier SEC teams to stay on path for an NCAA at-large bid, and it’s going to have to be better to win those games.
I said going into the game that Kentucky would be the most talented team the Rebels have faced since Missouri – which was without its leading scorer when it was dominated by Ole Miss in Oxford – and that was certainly true.
But for the third-straight game, Ole Miss didn’t play its best.
For the fifth time in six games the Rebels’ were underwhelming with their field goal percentage, the third time in that stretch they’ve shot under 50 percent.
Murphy Holloway, Reggie Buckner, or both, have been prone to foul trouble. They are the “men” Kentucky coach John Calipari was talking about pre-game, but they’re not helping Ole Miss if they’re on the bench in foul trouble. They played a combined 13 minutes in the first half last night. That’s a trend that must stop with Jones and Williams likely out for a stretch of time.
When the season began the frontcourt looked to be very deep with Jones, Demarco Cox and Jason Carter all playing behind Holloway and Buckner.
Carter, a junior college transfer, was booted off the team without ever playing a game. Cox has missed most of the season on the shelf, and now Jones likely joins him there.
Freshman Terry Brutus, once described as a project player, has been pressed into a role with serious minutes, and that role is about to grow. Freshman Anthony Perez will have to play more minutes too, and he’ll have to play them down low where he will struggle to keep from getting out-muscled. He can help this team by knocking down a few 3-point shots, but he’s yet to show consistency with that.
Marshall Henderson’s game last night was not totally unexpected. He’s not a great percentage shooter, but he still finds ways to score. He did that last night with 21 points while going 5-for-19 from the floor, 2-for-11 from 3. Kentucky did a great job of defending him on the edge, and there came a time in the game when the Rebels were trying to get back into it, and he was throwing up quick shots.
When he couldn’t get off a good 3-point look, he improvised by driving inside, and that’s where Nerlens Noel – who set a Kentucky record with 12 blocked shots – was waiting.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy lamented the fact that his starting guards – Henderson and Jarvis Summers — were a combined 10-for-38 from the floor. You can’t win that way, but that percentage was more a reflection of Noel than Henderson and Summers. When they got into the lane you could see them twisting and turning, showing awkward form in trying to get the ball over or around Noel.
The guy who had to do less of that was LaDarius White, because he combines a bigger body with athleticism when he drives it in off the win.
White had a season-high for the second-straight game, leading Ole Miss with 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting, 3-for-3 from the arc.
With injuries popping up for this team anything more that White can contribute – especially with defense and rebounding – is greatly needed.