With more than five weeks remaining in the regular season, Mississippi is one victory away from matching last season’s win total.
This team also has much bigger goals than simply winning 16 games.
The 18th-ranked Rebels, who are hoping to make their first NCAA tournament appearance in eight years, look to pick up another elusive SEC road victory when they visit struggling Auburn on Thursday night.
One of the biggest reasons Mississippi (15-4, 3-2) hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2002, is its poor play away from Oxford. The Rebels are showing that may be a thing of the past.
Just one season removed from finishing 16-15 overall, Ole Miss is 2-1 on the road in the SEC with the only blemish being a 71-69 overtime loss at then-No. 9 Tennessee on Jan. 16. The Rebels had dropped 20 of 24 conference road games over the previous three seasons.
Mississippi is coming off Saturday’s 73-63 victory at LSU, which is winless in SEC play, and appears to have another winnable road game against the Tigers (10-10, 1-4). History isn’t on their side, though, as the Rebels haven’t won back-to-back conference road games since Feb. 3 and 17, 2001.
Ole Miss has also lost nine of 12 at Auburn, and split two meetings with the Tigers last season with each team winning at home.
The Rebels weren’t at full strength a year ago, however, as Chris Warren missed both games due to a season-ending ACL injury. Warren, who averaged 19.6 points in the 11 games prior to last season’s injury, has been carrying Ole Miss this year.
The junior guard averages a team-high 16.5 points, and scored all 14 of his points in the final 10 minutes against LSU while playing with a thigh bruise.
Warren leads an offense that ranks second in the SEC with an average of 81.2 points, and is second in 3-pointers made with 163.
“We’ve got a certain standard that we talk about every day as to how we feel like we have to play in order to be successful,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “Number one on that is that we have to compete at a very high level, and I think for the most part, this team has done that. As long as we keep competing, this team will have a chance.”
This potent offense now looks to frustrate an Auburn team that is allowing league worsts of 79.0 points and 50.5 percent shooting in conference play.
The Tigers allowed Vanderbilt to shoot 53.7 percent and score 50 second-half points in Saturday’s 82-74 loss. Auburn, which is trying to avoid its worst SEC start since opening 1-7 in 2006, led the Commodores by as many as 16 before completely falling apart down the stretch.
“We have to get better as a team,” forward Lucas Hargrove said. “When the bench plays good for us that’s when we are at our best. I felt like our bench play got a little relaxed in the second half.”
Hargrove finished with team-highs of 19 points and 10 rebounds Saturday, while leading scorer DeWayne Reed had 16 points.
Reed, who is averaging 19.0 points in the last six games, totaled 33 in two games against the Rebels last season.
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