For the first time in a decade, Ole Miss dropped a home game to No. 11 Auburn by a score of 79-70. The Rebels are now 11-11 on the season and 4-5 in SEC play.
“These games are hard to win,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said after the game.
Ole Miss struggled with fouls throughout the first half, amassing 15 personals by the time 20 minutes had expired. Power forward Bruce Stevens later fouled out in just 13 minutes of play. But the Rebels kept the score close, trailing 38-36 at the break.
“When you play an Ole Miss team, you better buckle your chinstrap,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “Nobody plays harder.”
Deandre Burnett led all scorers in the first with 12 points, followed by Jared Harper with 10 for the Tigers. Burnett, however, also went 1-5 from behind the arc in half, continuing a trend of poor 3-point shooting that has haunted the Rebels throughout the season. Sophomore point guard Breein Tyree opened the half with five of the Rebels’ first eight points, including an impressive finish through traffic, but failed to find another score until the second half.
“It’s one problem after another,” Kennedy said. “We just weren’t finishing plays.”
Ole Miss and Auburn opened the second with an exchange of blows, each team failing to solidify a lead. Through the first 13 minutes of play, the Rebels never trailed by more than eight but also never held a lead. Entering the final five minutes, the game’s momentum began to shift in favor of the Tigers. As Auburn built a 15-point lead within the final four minutes, fans streamed out of the arena, having experienced this pattern far too many times before. A solid first half that gives way to a losing effort in the second: the Ole Miss way.
“At times, we get too locked into the ball, and next thing you know, somebody’s shooting a layup,” Kennedy said, referring to his team’s tendency to watch instead of defend.
Careless turnovers from Burnett and Terence Davis hurt the Rebel effort as they hoped to limp back into contention. Davis, who led the Rebels in scoring last season with 14.9 points per game, added a thunderous and-1 dunk with just over a minute left in the game, but it was not enough. The Rebels dropped their fifth SEC game this season by a score of 79-70.
After the game, Kennedy’s lamented his team’s turnovers.
“(Burnett) had six tonight, and (Breein) had five,” Kennedy said. “It comes down to decision making and playing through contact.”
When all was said and done, Auburn guard Jared Harper led scorers with 23 points, 19 of which arrived in the second half. Burnett finished with 16 points, topping the Rebels’ stat sheet. Auburn grabbed 19 offensive rebounds and collected 17 turnovers from Ole Miss players, six of which came from Burnett.
“We need an inside presence. We cannot be so dependent on perimeter shots,” Kennedy said. “We knew there was going to be a little bit of a transition with (Bruce Stevens) and Dom, but then we think we get there, and we have to take a huge step back.”
Kennedy used 7-foot center Dominik Olejniczak sparingly after the big man scored 16 against Mohamed Bamba and Texas on Saturday. Olejniczak went three for three on field goals in his six first-half minutes, adding an and-1 free throw for seven total first-half points. And he did it cleanly, too, fouling just twice during the first.
“We tried to go small because of our foul trouble,” Kennedy said. “The speed of the game was a little tough for him (Olejniczak).”
Olejniczak played seven minutes in the second half, collecting a foul and rebound without taking a shot.
Auburn scored 32 of its points in the paint. Ole Miss, meanwhile, gave up 19 offensive rebounds. The Tigers’ two tallest players, Cole Blackstock and Thomas Collier, are both listed at 6-foot-9, 3 inches shorter than Olejniczak.
“They killed us on the glass,” guard Markel Crawford said. “Any team comes in and gets 19 offensive rebounds – 12 in the second half – I don’t think we have a good chance of winning.”
The Rebels now shift their attention to a Saturday night matchup at No. 18 Tennessee. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. The game will be streamed on SEC Network.