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March 13, 2014

McCready: Smarter decisions let Rebels 'flip the script'

ATLANTA -- Mississippi State shot 57.7 percent from the floor in the first half Thursday night, including six of 11 from behind the 3-point line.

Anyone who had watched the Bulldogs, losers of 13 straight games to end the regular season, knew that wasn't going to continue.

Ole Miss was cognizant of that, of course. The Rebels knew Mississippi State would come back to earth. The Rebels also knew the Bulldogs' legs would fade a bit late Thursday, some 24 hours after Mississippi State beat Vanderbilt on the very same Georgia Dome floor.

What was more imperative for Ole Miss in the final 20 minutes Thursday had far less to do with the Bulldogs than it had to do with an internal examination of sorts. Ole Miss made just 13 of 35 shots from the field in the first half, including a 6-for-18 performance from behind the 3-point arc.

So many of those missed shots were the result of poor decisions. Marshall Henderson made just three of 10 first-half 3-point shots, including a couple of ill-advised, out-of-rhythm attempts from Buckhead.

"It was a tale of two halves," Kennedy said. "The script got flipped in the second half. It's probably the best half of basketball we've played offensively in a while."

The Rebels dominated the second half Thursday night en route to a 78-66 win over Mississippi State, one that allowed the Rebels (19-13) to advance to Friday night's SEC tournament quarterfinals against Georgia.

Ole Miss shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half while Mississippi State became ice cold. The Bulldogs made just four of 23 shots in the final 20 minutes, including just one of seven attempts from the 3-point line.

"When you make shots, it's amazing how much energy you have," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "When you miss shots, that energy goes away quickly. In the first half, they were bouncing all around the gym. We couldn't make one. I was just trying to stay in the game."

Ole Miss trailed by 13 points with 16:42 left. Then Kennedy's halftime message kicked in.

"Marshall's going to be Marshall," said Kennedy, who jokingly congratulated his lone senior for taking 19 3-pointers Thursday night. "But we can't all fall in love with jump shots. We've got to drive the ball. Once we started making shots, I felt like we had a lot more energy down the stretch."

Aaron Jones hit a jumper. Jarvis Summers scored on a layup. Then Henderson hit a 3-pointer, Summers scored on another layup. Sebastian Saiz hit a pair of free throws and then knocked down a short jumper. Anthony Perez hit a 3-pointer to pull within one point and LaDarius White scored on a layup to give the Rebels their first lead with 8:15 left.

Ole Miss took the lead for good with 5:59 left on Jones' layup. Consecutive 3-pointers from Summers and Henderson extended the Rebels' lead to eight points and Henderson's trey with 2:42 remaining was the dagger.

"We changed a few angles because of the way they were guarding," Kennedy said. "They were downing ball screens. They weren't letting us adjust. We had to adjust. They were guarding Marshall on the opposite side of the basket. Usually people always keep the defender between the guy they're guarding and the rim. They decided to get on the other side so they could chase over the top, so we adjusted some angles."

Because of that adjustment, Ole Miss survived to live another day. The Rebels lost by just one point in Athens last month and match up fairly well with Mark Fox's Bulldogs.

"We've just got to keep playing," Summers said. "We're not going to make every shot."

The Rebels just need more of their shots to be smart. Down the stretch Thursday, most of Ole Miss' looks were good ones. It was a half of basketball Kennedy would love to repeat for the rest of the weekend.

"We've got to come out with that same sense of urgency that we played with in the last 10 minutes," Kennedy said. "It's probably the best half of basketball offensively we have played in a long time."

It's a half the Rebels likely have to copy if they dare to dream of repeating last year's magical March. It's a tall task, but for a few minutes Thursday night, Ole Miss got a glimpse of the recipe it has to follow.


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