OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - The tension was still showing on Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy’s face several minutes after his Rebels managed to squeeze past Southern Methodist with a 50-48 victory on Tuesday night.
Simply put, it was ugly. Kennedy — with his brutally honest candor — admits that might be a common theme this season.
“It’s who we are,” Kennedy said. “When you’re 14 games into the season and you’re still having so many inefficiencies with the ability to pass, catch, dribble and shoot — which are all important qualities to being a Division I basketball player — it’s going to be a grind.”
Terrance Henry scored 13 points, including four in the final two minutes, to lead Ole Miss (10-4) to the win, which broke a three-game losing streak.
Robert Nyakundi scored 12 points and Jeremiah Samarrippas added 10 as SMU rallied from a 31-21 second-half deficit, but it wasn’t enough. The Mustangs (8-6) shot 36.5 percent (19 of 52) from the field.
Ole Miss struggled to put away the Mustangs, trailing 48-46 with less than two minutes remaining. But Henry scored on a driving layup to tie the game and then hit two free throws with 28.3 seconds remaining to give the Rebels the lead.
Reggie Buckner added eight points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots. Maurice Aniefiok scored eight points off the bench.
But the good moments on offense were few and far between. Instead, there were a lot of forced 3-pointers and hesitant passes, leading to even more grimacing from Kennedy on the Ole Miss bench.
“Until we get an identity, until we have someone stand up and say `Follow me,’ we just don’t know where we’re going to get baskets,” Kennedy said. “… We’ve got some guys playing with the yips and not playing with the confidence we need.”
Against SMU, it was Henry who took the reins late.
“That’s what I’m trying to do,” Henry said. “But I’m trying not to force anything and instead let the game come to me.”
The 6-foot-9 senior is averaging 11.5 points per game — which ranks second on the team — and Kennedy hopes the veteran can provide more consistency as Ole Miss approaches the most critical weeks on the schedule. The Rebels open Southeastern Conference play on Saturday on the road against LSU.
Kennedy hopes starting forward Murphy Holloway will be able to return against LSU. He’s averaging 9.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, but has missed the past two games with a sprained ankle.
The Rebels started with a promising 9-1 record this season despite an inability to score consistently. But the offensive problems caught up with them in late December, with three consecutive losses to Southern Miss, Middle Tennessee and Dayton.
Ole Miss came into Tuesday’s game shooting just 42.9 percent from the field, including 28.4 percent from 3-point range and an anemic 58.7 percent on free throws — which ranks 333rd out of 338 NCAA Division I teams.
In beating SMU, the Rebels improved on their free throws — making 14 of 17 — but little else. Ole Miss shot 34.1 percent (15 of 44) from the field and 26.1 percent (6 of 23) from 3-point range.
Luckily for Ole Miss, SMU was just as bad on offense. Even so, the Mustangs had a chance to take the lead in the final seconds, but guard Aliaksei Patsevich missed an open 3-pointer.
“We gave great effort,” SMU coach Matt Doherty said. “And because of that we gave ourselves a chance to win a road game against a team from the Southeastern Conference. We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but I really like where our effort is right now.”
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