Tonight was the 255th installment of the Egg Bowl: hardwood edition. Coming into the game, the Rebels had won five of six, including four straight in Oxford versus the Bulldogs. From tipoff, the game had the look and feel of a rivalry game, except only one team really showed up to play. Ole Miss (12-9, 3-5) throttled Mississippi State (13-7, 4-4) 88-61, the largest victory over the Bulldogs since 1951.
Ole Miss took an 18-point advantage into halftime, leading the Bulldogs 51-33. The 51 first-half points scored by the Rebels amounted to their best offensive half of the season, due largely in part to the balanced attack of Sebastian Saiz, Rasheed Brooks, Terence Davis and Deandre Burnett, who combined for 43 of the Rebels’ first-half points. Coach Andy Kennedy’s squad forced 11 turnovers, compared to just three of its own, and was a +5 on the glass.
“From the start, we were much more efficient offensively,” Kennedy said.
He praised his team’s defensive effort, especially the +11 in turnover margin and +13 on the glass.
“That allows you to win, despite shooting 6-23 from three,” Kennedy said.
Brooks was brilliant for the Rebels, leading all scorers at halftime with 13 points on 4-5 shooting.
“Rasheed’s success means the world to us. He was the difference for us,” Kennedy said. “He (Brooks) knocked down a couple threes, forced a couple stops, and next thing you know we had a double digit lead.”
In Brooks’ second game back after suffering a seizure during the game against Tennessee, he played one of his best games of the season, scoring 15 points and knocking down three threes in just 23 minutes of action.
Kennedy has flirted all season long with different back-court combinations, but tonight’s success may be an indicator that the combo of Tyree at point guard and Burnett at shooting guard will be the pair going forward.
“We brought Breein here to be a point guard. As he’s gotten more comfortable handling the ball, you see our turnovers go down,” Kennedy said.
It seems as if the early-season ball-handling and point guard woes have subsided as he’s gained experience.
This was the third straight game where the Rebels carried a lead into intermission. But unlike the Texas A&M and Baylor games, Ole Miss was able to hold on for victory. For a team plagued all season long by first half woes, the recent success may be an indicator that it isn’t a half versus half issue, rather that Ole Miss just needs to focus its efforts on a balanced, all-around game.
Mississippi State came out of the second half tunnel with more energy than the first, cutting the lead to 10 at the nine-minute mark. But the Bulldogs wouldn’t get that close again, as the Rebels went on a 12-0 run to effectively put the game out of reach for coach Ben Howland’s team.
“This is a very good team,” Howland said of the Rebels. “They did a fantastic job of driving and penetrating against us.”
State’s forward Quinndary Weatherspoon echoed his coach, citing the Rebels relentless attack of the basket as the main reason Ole Miss came out on top.
Lamar Peters and Weatherspoon led Mississippi State with 16 points a piece, while Kegler and Holman chipped in 8 and 9 respectively.
Ole Miss’ previously mentioned balanced offensive attack of Saiz (17 pts), Burnett (16 pts), Davis (18 pts), and Brooks (15 pts) finished with a combined 66 of the team’s 88. Saiz’s strong senior season continued, as he notched his 15th double-double of the year, good for 5th in the nation. The victory elevated Ole Miss to an overall record of 13-9 (4-5 in the SEC).
“This win means a lot to Rebel nation. For us, it showed what were capable of if we take the right approach. We defended, rebounded, didn’t turn it over and turned our opponent over,” Kennedy said. “This is the formula by which I hope we can play moving forward.”