While Mississippi struggled for a second time against an elite team its last time out, it will have two games against less-than-imposing opponents to regain some confidence before beginning SEC play.
The 15th-ranked Rebels look to bounce back from their worst offensive performance of the season when they return home to take on Jacksonville State on Tuesday night.
Mississippi (10-2) has been one of the top scoring teams in the nation, but came out stagnant in a 76-66 loss at No. 6 West Virginia on Wednesday. The Rebels, who were averaging 85.4 points, shot 67.7 percent in their previous game — a 108-64 rout of Centenary on Dec. 19—but followed with a season-low 36.4 percent against the Mountaineers and were 5 of 24 from 3-point range.
The win snapped Mississippi’s six-game winning streak and was the third time in five games the team has had to try and come back from a first-half deficit.
“I don’t think that we came out terribly focused,” coach Andy Kennedy said. “They hit us in the mouth and we didn’t respond. As a result, we’re going home a loser.”
Both of Mississippi’s losses have come against top-tier teams. Its other defeat came Nov. 22 against then-No. 5 Villanova as the Rebels shot 38.1 percent and committed 21 turnovers in the 79-67 setback.
Although beating ranked opponents on the road has been difficult for Mississippi, winning at home against unranked ones has not. The Rebels are 6-0 there this season, outscoring opponents by an average of 23.7 points. They have won 36 of their last 37 games in Oxford against non-conference foes and will play their next three contests there.
Mississippi doesn’t have much time to work out any remaining struggles. Tuesday is one of two remaining tune-ups before beginning the conference slate. After Jacksonville State, they Rebels will host Central Florida before facing SEC-opponent Mississippi State on Jan. 9.
It will be critical for Chris Warren, Mississippi’s leading scorer at 17.6 points per game, to bounce back. After pouring in a season-high 32 in a win over UTEP on Dec. 16, the junior guard totaled 19 on 7 of 18 shooting against Centenary and West Virginia.
He’ll be looking to put up big numbers against Jacksonville State (5-5) which is playing its first ranked opponent since losing to Mississippi State in 2004.
The Gamecocks are coming off a 60-55 loss to Nicholls State on Dec. 21, when they shot 38.3 percent and trailed the entire way. Trenton Marshall scored 18 while Jeremy Bynum added 15 as the duo shot a combined 9 of 30.
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak. Only three of the team’s wins are against Division I opponents.
The Gamecocks are 1-33 against the SEC, with their lone victory coming against Alabama during the 1952-53 season. Mississippi is 3-0 all-time in the series, including 64-56 in 2003.
Already a tough venue for opponents to play in, Tad Smith Coliseum could become even more hostile as school officials have offered free admission. Fewer than 6,000 people were on hand to see the team beat Centenary in an arena that seats more than 9,000.