Whatever Andy Kennedy told his team at halftime of last night’s exhibition seemed to work. After leading Morehouse by only six points at the half, the Rebels quickly turned things around by starting the second half with a 31-7 run and coasting on for a 90-66 win.
Ole Miss started the game off hot, jumping out to an early 18-3 lead, but the tide quickly changed, as excessive substitutions led to miscommunication and mounting turnovers. With 12 turnovers—double that of Morehouse—and an abysmal 35.4 percent field goal shooting going into halftime, the Rebels couldn’t seem to find a groove.
That all seemed to change as Kennedy’s team settled down and played smarter, more aggressive basketball after the half. With no turnovers in the first five minutes of the second half, the Rebels flipped the script and began to force them.
Along with the slowed-down play, Ole Miss consistently attacked the glass, out-rebounding the Maroon Tigers 44-29 on the night. However, even with the strong second-half start, Ole Miss again seemed to stall at times down the stretch, finishing the night with a concerning 20 turnovers.
“Twenty turnovers is ridiculous,” Kennedy said. “A lot of it is that I’ve got a lot of different handling [the ball], and that’s something we’ll have to zero in on and correct.”
New players and spread out minutes—10 players had eight or more—could account for many of the miscommunications that the Rebs suffered, especially in the first half. As the rotation is trimmed down for the season, Kennedy and his players are hopeful that the mistakes and turnovers will decrease.
One of the standouts of the exhibition was Cullen Neal, a junior transfer from New Mexico. He attributed the sluggish play to nerves rather than a lack of chemistry.
“I think our chemistry is good. All of us have a feel for each other. We’re in a good spot,” Neal said. “That’s their first ever Division 1 college game, so there could have been some nerves in there…some excitement. I think that could have led to some turnovers as well.”
If Neal is correct that his team’s mistakes may just be simple fixes, this year’s Ole Miss Basketball squad could be a force to be reckoned with. The starting five especially showed flashes of real talent at times.
Neal and fellow transfer Deandre Burnett from Miami, together scored 26 of the Rebels’ points, Neal leading all scorers with 19. Senior Rasheed Brooks added another 17 points while senior leader Sebastian Saiz was only a rebound shy of a double-double.
The starters also proved they weren’t afraid to shoot from beyond the arc, with all but big man Justas Furmanavicius draining at least one three point ball. The Rebels made 12 total on a decent 41.4 percent.
While this year’s Ole Miss Basketball team contains many new faces, they may just be ones that Rebel fans remember. The additions of Neal and Burnett, along with the return of veterans Brooks and Saiz, signal optimistic expectations with talented playmakers across the board. If Neal and Kennedy are correct that focusing in on a smaller rotation could limit turnovers and improve offensive efficiency, then the 2016-2017 Ole Miss Rebels could transcend expectations and be in contention to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.