Ole Miss opened its 2016 season on Friday night hosting the U.T. Martin Skyhawks from the Ohio Valley Conference. Head coach Andy Kennedy is in his 11th year at the helm of the Rebel Program. The Rebels first starting lineup included three first year Rebels, Deandre Burnett a transfer from Miami, Cullen Neal a transfer from New Mexico, and Justas Furmanavicus a Juco transfer from Three Rivers Community College. Ole Miss returns two starters from last season both in their Senior Season, Rasheed Brooks and Sebastian Saiz.
After a lackluster first half that included 12 turnovers the Rebels found themselves trailing UT Martin 42-39 at the half. This is the first season Ole Miss will be without the always electric Stefan Moody, and trailing at the half the Rebels desperately needed someone to step up and provide a spark to help lead the team to victory. Ole Miss didn’t have just one player take over the game in the second half, but several Rebels made key plays that helped Ole Miss hang on to win the Season Opener 86-83 over the UT Martin Skyhawks.
With a lot of new faces Ole Miss went through some growing pains in this one, finishing the game with 24 turnovers. Ole Miss also had to play the last 10 minutes of the contest without their senior leader Sebastian Saiz. Saiz was in foul trouble all night, he finished with only 17 minutes of action in the game. Deandre Burnett finished the game with 23 points to lead the Rebels and Terrance Davis added 19 points on 9/13 from the field.
Ole Miss didn’t trail UT Martin for long in the second half, the Rebels would get out to an 8-0 run to start the half taking a 47-42 lead with 18 minutes remaining in the contest. UT Martin did not let the Rebels use the momentum to pull away, keeping the game within 8 points for the rest of the game. With a 7-point lead and 9:01 remaining in the game, Senior Sebastian Saiz fouled out of the game.
Ole Miss relied on its youth the rest of the game with Saiz out of the game. The Rebels extended their lead to 74-63 with 4:14 remaining in the contest and it looked like they would cruise to victory in the final minutes. However, UT Martin Guard Matthew Butler would hit 3 three-point field goals in less than 2 minutes for and cut the Ole Miss lead to 1 with 2:45 remaining. Butler would hit another clutch three pointer to cut the Ole Miss lead to 1 point with :49 seconds left. Deandre Burnett would ice the game for the Rebels with two clutch free throws with :10 seconds left, and Butler missed the potential game tying three in the closing seconds. Ole Miss would survive the scare from the Skyhawks with a 86-83 victory to start the season 1-0.
“(UT Martin) has a really good team that will win a lot of games this season,” Kennedy said. ”We were extremely careless with the ball and my hope the message will be sent after we show the tape tomorrow and we’ll move forward”, Kennedy said. “We made just enough plays down the stretch to come away with a win,” Kennedy added
Deandre Burnett was pleased with is first performance as a Rebel.
” It felt really good to get that first one out of the way and get a win,” Burnett said of playinf his first game in 20 months after transferring from Miami. “I don’t think chemistry will be a problem, we’ve been practicing together for months now, but being in game settings together will help our chemistry.”
Despite the late scare, Ole Miss survived to move to 1-0 on the year. It returns to action on Monday against Massachusetts.