Ole Miss basketball traveled to St. Louis this week to prepare for tonight’s SEC Tournament opener against No. 11 seed South Carolina. The Rebels are fresh off three straight losses, including an 82-69 stunner last Saturday against Vanderbilt. Entering the tournament as the lowest-seeded team out of 14 teams, the Rebels certainly have their work cut out for them.
The Gamecocks, still reeling from their 2017 NCAA Final Four appearance, have struggled during the regular season with a 16-15 overall record and a 7-11 conference record. Without star guard Sindarius Thornwell, now with the LA Clippers, the Gamecocks have proven far more mortal than their previous campaign.
In December, the Rebels hosted the Gamecocks and won in a 74-69 shootout. Ole Miss was led by stellar performances from guards Deandre Burnett and Markel Crawford, who are both graduating after this season. Crawford scored 17 points and added two rebounds to the effort, and Burnett scored 18 points and threw in six assists of his own. Bruce Stevens finished third in scoring for the Rebels with 10 points and four rebounds.
This time around, South Carolina presents an even greater threat to this out-of-form Ole Miss team. The Gamecocks’ two most dominant players are Chris Silva and Frank Booker; the pair scored 42 combined points last time the teams met. Silva added 13 rebounds and two blocks to the Gamecocks’ losing effort. He averages 14.1 points per game, and Booker averages 12.5 points. Ole Miss, led on defense by wings Devontae Shuler and Crawford, will have its hands full.
The Gamecocks currently sit at No. 13 in the conference in points per game (69.8) and last in the SEC in field goal percentage, shooting 39.6 percent from the floor.
The Rebels are led on offense by Terence Davis and Deandre Burnett, averaging 13.7 and 13.6 points per game, respectively. Davis also leads the Rebels in rebounds per game with 6.2. But over the last five games, Burnett has struggled, sharing the brunt of the scoring responsibilities with his teammates. Davis has picked up some of that slack, averaging 15.8 points per game over the Rebels’ past five, and Breein Tyree is averaging 16.2 points per game over the same stretch.
Stevens, an under-the-radar over performer for Ole Miss this year, has also played well as of late. He enters the tournament with five straight double-digit point performances, averaging 13.6 points per game over his last five contests. His presence at the post has been much-needed for a Rebel team that sorely lacks size this season. Fellow big men Dominik Olejniczak and Marcanvis Hymon have been unable to score at the same clip Stevens has, and their minutes reductions prove that interim head coach Tony Madlock has taken notice.
No team has ever won the SEC Tournament as the No. 14 seed, and the Rebels would need one of the conference’s greatest Cinderella stories to have a chance. But after dropping regular-season game after regular-season game, the Rebels do not have much else to play for. Their chances of making the NIT are slim, and their chances of making the Big Dance are practically zero. Time will tell if Madlock can rally his team for one final push before its season concludes.
Wednesday’s game tips off at 8 p.m. at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Fans can watch in Oxford on SEC Network.