Once again, the offense got off to a slow start. Predictably, Ole Miss sat in a zone and dared us to shoot. There are 344 teams in Division 1 Men's basketball. We rank number 343, ahead of only Grambling State, in 3 point FG%. Another pitiful 3 of 17 performance did not help matters. Trevor Lacey only played 14 minutes, missing all 3 of his outside attempts.
Despite the poor shooting, I actually thought our execution on offense was a little bit better. Releford was able to drive in and get near the basket but his shots just were not falling. We got a lot of open and high percentage shots near the basket, but it seemed like the ball would not bounce our way. A big part of the problem is that our big guys never use the glass. We make 3-4 foot shots a lot more difficult than they have to be by refusing to use the backboard.
Although Releford did not have a great day offensively, his defense was stellar. Both he and Randolph were able to force several turnovers in the press that lead to scores. Releford was also very disruptive in the half court defense, deflecting passes and pestering the Ole Miss guards.
The Rebel black bears built a 10 point lead in the first half. Charles Hankerson came off the bench and busted the Rebel zone to get us back into the game. He had 10 points in 13 minutes, including some desperately needed outside shots which opened up the inside game. His play at the end of the first half and midway through the 2nd got us back into the game and put us in position to win. It was a remarkable performance, and I thought he should have played more down the stretch, but he was coming off of a knee surgery Monday.
There were a lot of rumors surrounding a possible Tony Mitchell suspension coming into this game. As noted, he was not in the starting lineup, but he did come off the bench to play for over 30 minutes. I thought he played well and hard for the most part. He had a huge block of an Ole Miss 3 point attempt at the end of the game, although with a 4 point lead in that situation I would generally rather not go for the block in that situation. His 14 points and 4 offensive rebounds were huge down the stretch. His put back actually gave us the lead for good in the final overtime period. He got hit in the head at one point late in the first half and had to be taken back to the locker room. It was a strange situation in that he came back out and was sent back to the locker room 2 or 3 times before coming back into the game. He looked visibly upset about having to go back and not being able to get back into the game.
The foul trouble and injury to Tony Mitchell resulted in some strange lineups at times, which I think hurt our chemistry a little bit. I still do not understand our substitution patterns. The way Hankerson was playing, he should have played much more down the stretch.
Once again, Andrew Steele stepped up in the clutch and made the jump shot to put us ahead by 3 with only 30 seconds left in the final overtime. Andrew is a great leader in these pressure packed situations. He will be a key factor if we are going to win these next two tough games on the road.
The crowd was all over the officials for most of the night. I actually didn't think they called that bad of a game. They missed a few of what looked like obvious fouls against Ole Miss, and then when they made actual good calls that went against us they really heard about it. Both teams got away with a number of travels. Coach Grant got a technical after one such missed call. As Ole Miss was bringing the ball back up, Coach Grant questioned the call, and I could see the official tell Coach, "That's enough," and when Coach said something else he was hit with the T. I don't think Coach did it intentionally, but it did seem to get the crowd into the game and energize the team.
Hopefully getting the come from behind win against a solid team in a close game like this will give the team some confidence. We are back to .500 in league play now, and Ole Miss is another team that is fighting for a potential NCAA bid. On the positive side, we finally found a way to win one of these games. It was good to see the team having fun. On the negative side, we blew a 5 point lead with 2 minutes to play in the first overtime. Hankerson nearly stole the in bounds pass, and it seemed like the whole team was smiling and having fun, while Ole Miss answered with a 5-0 run.
Coach Grant did a good job of managing the game. At the end of regulation in a tie game, I thought we should have went for the 2 for 1 with 50 seconds left. Thankfully, Ole Miss committed a dumb foul with 30 seconds left giving us an opportunity to get the last shot. I liked the play Coach Grant drew up, we had several options and Levi Randolph had an open mid range look, but it wouldn't fall. Green probably should have started the 2nd overtime on the bench, it was obvious he was winded and playing with 4 fouls. He fouled out immediately, but Coach Grant wisely took the air out of the ball on offense and limited the number of possessions in the final overtime.
Up next, we travel to the ugliest village on the plains to take on a much improved auburn team. You know they will be fired up for us. Tip off is at 8pm Central. I will be there, and hopefully a lot of Southeast Alabama area Tide fans will join me.