There is not much that can be said about Ole Miss basketball’s trip to Knoxville, Tennessee, on Saturday. While Ole Miss has been bad on the road all season and Tennessee basketball is a big deal, Saturday’s 94-61 loss was ugly beyond expectations and beyond words.
A 33-point score line is supposed to be reserved for matchups like “warm-up games” between Duke and Coastal Carolina – not an in-conference, February tilt.
Head coach Andy Kennedy began the 2017-18 season by boasting that, in his coaching career, his teams have never fallen below .500. Now, why he is so proud of this accolade of mediocrity, the University of Mississippi may never know. Nevertheless, with about 12 minutes still to play Saturday, Kennedy sat resigned on the bench as he watched these “bragging rights” get set ablaze by the Volunteers’ Admiral Schofield and his tournament-bound squad.
Beyond about the 33-minute mark, it did not look like Kennedy or any of the Rebels were interested in trying to save the game. In fact, the effort level was so low down the stretch that Tennessee was able to put in four players who would have never seen a minute of action if not for the route that was well in progress. During the combined 18 minutes the four “benchwarmers” were on the court, the Rebels let them score 12 points in the dying minutes.
In such an overall negative road trip, the sole bright spot for Ole Miss was Bruce Stevens’ shooting and his ability to stay out of foul trouble, something he has struggled with all year. He went 7 of 10 from the field and finished the game with 16 points, hitting both attempts from beyond the arc. But once again, aside from Terence Davis’ nine boards, Stevens and the Rebels could not rebound consistently – or really at all.
While unable to box out and rebound, the Rebels also couldn’t buy a bucket, and at the helm of the shooting struggles was Deandre Burnett. Normally a reliable scorer either off the bench or starting at guard, Burnett went 2 of 13 on Saturday and only made one of his seven attempts from deep. By the end of the game, it appeared as though the Rebels’ leading scorer was desperately chucking up shot after shot, hoping to see one go in and end his rut.
On the flipside, it seemed as though every shot Tennessee put up went in. Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams were playing backyard-ball as the game came to a close, and the Tennessee bench was up on its feet smiling and laughing. The scene in the final minutes was entirely embarrassing and left the Rebels with a humiliating in-conference record that dropped the team below Kennedy’s coveted .500 mark.
94-61 is an unacceptable score line that added to what has been an unacceptable season, which will not be getting any easier for Ole Miss.
The next game comes Tuesday at home against Missouri, who is coming off of a comfortable win against perennial SEC giants Kentucky. After Ole Miss’ loss against Auburn and demoralizing defeat in Tennessee, the strong win streak at The Pavilion has been tarnished and confidence is at a premium for this squad.
The bottom line is that while Big Dance hopes have gone by the wayside, NIT Tournament hopes have begun to dwindle. As SEC play ramps up, the Rebels cannot afford another outing like Saturday if they hope to finish the season with what Andy Kennedy would call pride: a .500 record.