Ole Miss (6-1) turned the ball over 18 times against the Blue Raiders, most notably in several picked pockets against their guards in what head coach Andy Kennedy called “big brother type plays, where your big brother just takes the ball.”
The Rebels’ 62 points was well off their season average of 87 entering the game, but Kennedy said he anticipated a scoring struggle against senior-laden MTSU (7-2), but not the turnovers.
“We just handed them the ball. When you go on the road and give the home team 23 points off of turnovers, quite honestly I was proud of our guys for grinding to get back in it.”
The Rebels struggled early and often in the backcourt on Saturday.
Jarvis Summers caught two personal fouls early and sat for a large chunk of the first half, freshman Derrick Millinghaus looked skittish and out of synch in his first game back since suffering a knee injury and shooting guard Marshall Henderson was ice cold (1 of 6 and 0 for 4 from 3 point range) before the half.
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Still, a consistent early effort Murphy Holloway (9 points, 5 rebounds), aggressive rebounding and a quick four-point run by the Rebels kept Ole Miss within four points at the half.
Henderson would heat up in the second half, scoring 15 of his 17 total points in the second half, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 59 after the Blue Raiders had led for 13 straight minutes in the second half. But MTSU head coach Kermit Davis’ switch to a zone defense stifled Holloway and the Rebel post game in the second half.
“Our execution just failed us. You’re not going to win on the road like that,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy noted after the game that he “probably did the team a disservice” because Ole Miss was one of the last teams in Division-I to go on the road this late in the 2012-13 season.
“Now, to go on the road and your point guard goes down with two fouls early, his backup just being cleared to practice last Thursday… it was honestly the worst case scenario for us. It interrupted our flow,” he said.
Summers spent most of the second half playing with four fouls as the Rebels mounted a late comeback.
“I had to roll the dice with Jarvis,” Kennedy said, “because we weren’t getting the production we needed.”
As for the turnovers, Kennedy chalked up the coughing up to a matter of MTSU’s hungriness and a level of physicality.
“We thought we could match their physicality and I thought we did, but we had instances here and there where we weren’t tough with the ball and they took advantage of that, “ senior guard Nick Williams said.
As the level of talent in the Rebels’ opponents has risen, Kennedy said he’s seen the problems that surfaced on Saturday night coming for a while.
“We’ve got to get stronger with the ball, we’ve got to make better decisions and then execute. In five of our first six games we were the superior team and we could cover up a lot of things we weren’t doing very well simply because we were bigger, faster and stronger and we could just make plays… today exposed some areas that quite frankly, I’ve seen in our execution. It’s got to get better.”