Andy Kennedy knows that his Ole Miss squad has struggled to hold onto leads during the young 2016-17 season.
As a result, the Rebels head coach stresses urgency among his players. The strategy was difficult to enforce on Dec. 22 against South Alabama, however, as Ole Miss jumped out to a big lead and never looked back in a 92-53 win over the Jaguars.
“You’ve seen our team, I’ll take up 20,” said Kennedy, the SEC’s longest-tenured coach, at the half with his team comfortably up 46-26.
Kennedy shook up his lineup for the second-straight game, going with leading scorer Deandre Burnett off the bench in favor of Cullen Neal. With the junior Neal running the point, Ole Miss was able to maintain a calm façade in the face of a South Alabama team looking to create discord and chaos with an aggressive full-court press.
The junior from Albuquerque finished the game with a career-high 11 points and 9 assists. That’s not to say that Burnett wasn’t a factor. The junior poured in 21 for the Rebels, whose bench tallied 40 points.
All told, 8 players scored for Ole Miss, including 5 players in double digits. Among them was Sebastian Saiz, who added to his SEC-best seventh double-double on the year, behind 16 rebounds. His 23 points and 6 3-pointers were both career-highs.
Nick Stover’s 17-points led South Alabama, who fell to 7-6 on the year. Matthew Graves’ program struggled from the field, shooting 29 percent for the game — and just 22 percent (5-22) from beyond the arc against an Ole Miss defense that excels when it comes to defending the 3-ball.
The victory ups the Rebels record to 9-3 on the year.
Player of the game
F Justas Furmanavicius, Ole Miss
Justas Furmanavicius was one of the biggest reasons for the Rebels big first half. The junior forward from Lithuania set a career high for points — doing so in the first half with 11 points. Furmanavicius finished with 13 points and 5 rebounds in 18 minutes.
— OleMissPix (@OleMissPix) December 23, 2016
Stat line of the game
Ole Miss shot 48 percent from the field, but it was the defense that put up lopsided numbers. The Rebels out-rebounded South Alabama by a 49-35 margin. Led by Furmanavicius, who swatted 3 shots, Ole Miss was able to block 8 shots, equaling their season average.
— Camden Johns (@GreatCambino) December 23, 2016
There wasn’t much of a turning point in this game as Ole Miss jumped out to a 24-8 lead at the 7:29 mark of the first half, courtesy of a Justas Furmanavicius 3-pointer.
The Jaguars made the Rebels sweat — and Kennedy look a bit like a prophet — for a stretch in the second half, using a 7-0 run to cut the lead to as low as 12 points. Kennedy called a timeout, however, which helped Ole Miss regain its composure. Led by Burnett and Saiz, the Rebels then reeled off an 26-5 run of their own to thoroughly quash any hopes of a South Alabama comeback.
What’s next for Ole Miss basketball
Ole Miss tips-off SEC play when the Rebels play host to No. 6 Kentucky on Dec 29 at The Pavilion. The Wildcats have shown some (not much, but some) vulnerability early on this season and are coming off a loss to No. 10 Louisville. Kentucky closed out its non-conference play with an 8-2 record, with its other loss coming to No. 2 UCLA. Ole Miss has dropped 7-straight contests to the Wildcats. The last time the Rebels knocked off Kentucky was in 2011 when unranked Ole Miss upset the No. 10 Wildcats in Oxford.
— Ole Miss Basketball (@OleMissMBB) December 23, 2016
Ole Miss vs. South Alabama box score
— David Kellum (@RebVoice) December 23, 2016