Ole Miss Blog - College

GoMiddle.com's Matt Hagen is covering today's game in Murfreesboro, Tenn., for RebelGrove.com. If you can't count on family, who can you count on?

That doesn't mean I can't share some thoughts as today's critical game unfolds. So, away we go:

In many ways, the start was perfect for Ole Miss. The Rebels fed Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner in the post from the beginning and got both big men going. Middle Tennessee's Jason Jones Jr. is going to have his hands full with Buckner. That's obvious immediately. Marshall Henderson has no conscience. He's missed his first three 3-pointers, but he's not sulking. Instead, he's been solid on defense early on. Really, he's been solid all year. That was not his reputation when he arrived in Oxford. That's a pleasant surprise for the Rebels so far this season.

Jarvis Summers picked up his second personal foul with 13:12 left in the first half. Not good for the Rebels. Derrick Millinghaus' return is a big deal for Ole Miss, but this isn't the way Andy Kennedy wanted to use him. Millinghaus is two-plus weeks removed from knee surgery. To be back on the floor this quickly is amazing, but the rust is obvious early. Just know Kennedy loves this kid. Also, make note that Millinghaus' availability allows Kennedy to use LaDarius White on the wing, where his length creates problems for opponents on both ends of the floor.

Millinghaus' second quick foul forces White to move to the point. Either Henderson or Nick Williams is going to have to hit some shots today. That said, damn, Holloway and Buckner are good on the post as a tandem. They'll be sorely missed next season -- except at the free throw line.

Random thought: Advantage to blogging from home instead of covering on site -- cold Stella Artois. That is all.

Back to hoops: If you thought this trip to Murfreesboro was going to be a walk in the park, you're nuts, you don't understand Kermit Davis Jr. and you underestimate the top shelf of Sun Belt Conference basketball. I covered the Sun Belt tournament a couple of times when I was in Mobile. Once it was in Murfreesboro. It was quality, quality basketball on the final two days.

It's halftime. The Blue Raiders lead, 33-29, and it could easily be a lot worse for the Rebels. Middle Tennessee scored 18 first-half points off turnovers. Ole Miss got four, if I'm counting correctly. Two things I noticed down the stretch of the first half: 1. Ole Miss got away from looking for Henderson. It doesn't work that way. He's not a threat if he's not getting touches. 2. There were some body language issues after Millinghaus' long shot hit nothing but oxygen and nothing resembling iron or a net. This team is facing some adversity today. Kennedy knew this trip would bring a test. He was right.

Ole Miss dominates the first four minutes of the second half to take a lead. Why? Pardon me while I pat myself on the back here, but if Henderson is on the floor, he must be an integral part of the offense. Let. Him. Shoot. Sometimes you'll get burned, sure, but he's on the floor to shoot. He stresses defenses, opens up the middle, gives teammates confidence, etc.

Turnovers are killing Ole Miss. The Rebels' offense is sloppy right now, and against a veteran team on the road, that won't work. Despite that, Ole Miss is down just five points, very much within striking distance.

Down 8 with 5:37 left, Ole Miss is just being beaten in every phase of the game right now. The Rebels are turning the ball over, taking bad shots, committing stupid fouls, etc. Ole Miss is very much on the ropes right here. These next few possessions will be critical.

The first possession out of that break: a long, running 3-pointer Henderson that missed. The second: a Henderson layup off a turnover. Rebels now trail by six with 4:17 left and Middle Tennessee running out of shot-clock time. Third possession after falling down 8: a wild Henderson 3-pointer that misses. Buckner gets the rebound and a trip to the line, but shot selection clearly is an issue Kennedy will address this week.

I didn't like the no-call on Henderson on the defensive end near the end of the game for Ole Miss. But Holloway's 3-point attempt from the left wing was just awful shot selection. Awful.

For those who will make this end of the world stuff, know you're wrong. This was a missed opportunity, certainly, but a road loss at Middle Tennessee won't kill Ole Miss' tournament chances whatsoever. What today did do, however, was expose a myriad of problems. It will be an intense week of practice this week as the Rebels prepare for East Tennessee State Friday in Oxford.

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