Sitting three rows below the press box, very audibly and for all of the Pavilion to hear, a concerned fan yelled during a timeout, “Come on Rebels. Wake up.” At that point, the Rebels had come out of the gate to a 19-4 deficit. That was with 11:35 left in the first half. Coach Kennedy and the Rebels heard that fan, but not soon enough, falling to Middle Tennessee State 77-62 after trailing by 29 points at halftime.
Ole Miss has scored the basketball well in the early portion of this season but was held largely in check in the first half, scoring just 19 points. The MTSU defense stymied the Rebels, holding SEC-leading scorer Deandre Burnett to just two points and SEC-leading rebounder Sebastian Saiz to just four points and three boards.
“It’s was unacceptable. It starts with me,” Kennedy said of the 14 first half turnovers. “I got guys, for whatever reason, who just freeze up.”
When more than halfway into a game and a team has more turnovers than points scored, “It’s going to be game, set, match,” Kennedy said.
The Rebels got their first field goal of the game to fall with 11:35 to go left in the first, and it looked as if they would build a bit of a comeback, until the Blue Raiders started letting it fly from three. They finished the first half on a streak of five straight possessions ending in a made three.
“They made us pay,” Kennedy said. “Down 29 at the half, it’s hard to come back from that.”
The Blue Raiders shot 9-11 from distance in the first half.
After succumbing to a 48-19 half time deficit, the dean of SEC basketball thought his squad was in need of a change. “
The only thing I knew to do coming out of the first half was to change the personnel,” Kennedy said.
He opened up the second half with four of his five starters on the bench. Instead, Freshman guard Breein Tyree, Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey, Marcanvis Hymon, Karlis Silins and Terence Davis started the second half.
The lineup change proved to be an invaluable adjustment, as Ole Miss opened the second half on a 28-10 run.
Freshman guard Breein Tyree provided a much needed spark, scoring a quick nine points and sending the crowd at the Pavilion to its feet.
Sebastian Saiz and Deandre Burnett made a pair of free throws to cut the Raider lead to 11 with seven minutes to go. Shortly after, a Cullen Neal three pulled the lead to single digits for the first time since early in the first half. That was the closet the Rebels would get, as they could never fully get over the hump.
Despite a furious second half comeback, Ole Miss was never able to overcome that 29 point first-half hole. The Rebels (5-2) fell to the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee State 77-52.
In a bright spot for the Rebels, Tyree looked poised and positioned to take on a much more impactful role on this team, which has struggled with point guard play and turnovers seven games into the season. Starting the second half, Tyree played 16 minutes, scoring 11 points on 4-6 shooting.
The Rebels must build on the momentum of the second half. Their next six opponents possess a combined 30-10 record, with matchups versus Memphis, Virginia Tech, Murray State and No. 1 nationally ranked Kentucky ahead.
“We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to play harder. We need to be more locked in,” Kennedy said. “Two kinds of people in this world: fighters and fliers. I’m a fighter, always have been, always will be. This team’s going to fight.”