Mississippi needs experience - fast.
The 24th-ranked Rebels are in a two-game midseason swoon with No. 19 Vanderbilt up next and are coming off their worst game of the season. The same goes for the Commodores, and both teams hope to regain traction Wednesday in Oxford after stumbling to 2-3 starts in the Southeastern Conference.
“Both of us were taken to the woodshed a bit in our last games,” Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy said. “It’ll be interesting to see who can get up off the mat.”
If the Rebels are to rally after a 20-point loss to SEC-leading Mississippi State on Saturday, they’ll need better play from the perimeter. Inexperience rendered the team helpless late in losses to Auburn and the Bulldogs, and Ole Miss tumbled seven spots Monday in The Associated Press’ Top 25.
“Our guys continue to make some of the same mistakes,” Kennedy said.
“I’m trying to be as patient as possible because of our five scholarship perimeter guys only (two have) been in an SEC game prior to this season.”
Ole Miss (15-3, 2-3 SEC) seemed to shrink late in the two losses, relying on freshman point guard Chris Warren to hit long shots and rally the team. While that worked to some degree against the Tigers in an 80-77 loss, the Bulldogs simply bullied the Rebels over the final 20 minutes to win 88-68.
“We’re dealing with a lot of young guys and at times our attention to detail is suffering, and that turned a 10-point game into a 20-point game in a hurry,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy has tinkered with the lineup in the last two weeks, starting Trevor Gaskins at shooting guard over David Huertas. But neither of those players or reserve guard Zach Graham has met the challenge yet. All three were invisible against Mississippi State and have not made the same contribution as Warren or Eniel Polynice, the team’s starting small forward.
Kennedy said the youngsters’ lack of focus has not only caused one of the nation’s top offenses to stumble, but also has hurt the team’s defense.
The Rebels allowed Mississippi State to shoot 69 percent in the second half and Auburn had one of its best offensive games of the season despite injuries and discipline problems that have left the Tigers helpless against other opponents.
“Defensively we have a lack of communication,” Kennedy said. “And a lot of that is playing young guys who’ve never really been forced to communicate defensively. And at this level, if you don’t do that you end up breaking down as well.”
Vanderbilt (17-3, 2-3) appears vulnerable after losing three of four and dropping five spots in the poll. But the Commodores’ condition may be deceptive. Their losses came at Kentucky, Tennessee and newly ranked Florida.
“I think some of it certainly is the competition,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “We’ve probably played in three of arguably the toughest road environments in the country in our first three league road games. I’m sure that you could take a lot of teams and send them to Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida and they would struggle in those venues against those teams.”
The luck of the draw appears against Vanderbilt, which starts conference play with six of nine games on the road. Ole Miss is undefeated at home this season and 24-1 in Oxford under Kennedy.
Polynice thinks the Rebels need to readjust their attitude to end the losing streak.
“Right now we just be rolling the ball out there and think we can beat teams just because we’ve got a number in front of our names,” he said. “A number in front of us makes our opponents want to beat us more.”