It was everything 16th-ranked Ole Miss didn’t need to happen in its 87-74 loss to unranked Kentucky.
By: Jeff Roberson, OMSpirit.com
The Rebels had gotten to 17-2 and 6-0 in Southeastern Conference play by being better than the teams they played and by making things happen at the end of games. Against Kentucky, the Rebels met an improving and talented Wildcat team now 14-6 and 5-2 and playing better.
They didn’t need the Wildcats to play what could arguably be their best game of the season. But they did. And the rave reviews for 6-foot-10 freshman Nerlens Noel after the game were warranted.
“Best shot blocker I’ve ever played against,” said Rebel senior Murphy Holloway after Nerlens blocked 12 Ole Miss shots.
“He was the difference in the game. I think we all would agree with that,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said.
But worse still was the fact that the Rebels find themselves thinner in the frontcourt than they could have imagined at the beginning of the season. The talent and depth there, along with the experience, was a team strength.
Now not so much. The hope for a return of Demarco Cox from a foot injury is fading. Jason Carter was let go from the team for rules violations earlier.
Now Aaron Jones is out, and it’s unknown for how long.
“It doesn’t look good,” was how Kennedy assessed the knee injury Jones suffered late in the game. This was a downer for Ole Miss. Now at a still sparkling 17-3 and 6-1 Southeastern Conference, this was what this team did not need to have happen.
Not with fourth-ranked Florida up next in Gainesville.
Senior guard Nick Williams has a sustained foot problem called plantar fasciitis, and it appears that worsened during the Kentucky game, too.
“We think it snapped,” Kennedy said. “We think the ligament in the bottom of his foot snapped. In fact, we’re pretty sure it did. Now that’s not as dire as it sounds.”
It does sound dire.
“Sometimes that alleviates the symptoms, if indeed that was the one that was initially injured. So he could be back. We won’t know until the doctors do an MRI, so I don’t want to jump to conclusions,” Kennedy said of Williams’ situation.
So where do the Rebels turn now for an inside presence? Of course they still have Holloway, the senior who surpassed Walter Actwood’s school record rebounding stat of 945 in the second half, set nearly 40 years ago. And there’s still school-record shot blocker Reginald Buckner whose inside presence has made things tough for many foes for four years.
The Rebels can depend on Holloway and Buckner. But then it becomes thin with the aforementioned situations. There was no way to predict the combination of setbacks.
Teams have them, but Ole Miss is fighting for a championship. The loss to Kentucky hurts. The loss to the front court could hurt longer.
As for Jones, who had eight rebounds, a block, and four points when he went out of the game with 3:50 to go, Kennedy did not feel good about the situation. Jones was examined and helped from the court.
“It’s a knee, and the initial prognosis is not good,” Kennedy said.
Not a good time to have so many ill-walking wounded heading to the indoor swamp. Freshman Terry Brutus, at 6-6, and another freshman, 6-10 Anthony Perez, will likely see substantial playing time, certainly more than they have.
Brutus has played in 11 games and saw seven minutes of action against the Wildcats. Perez, a versatile talent that could reportedly even play point guard if needed, has played in 17 games, and logged four minutes against Kentucky.
Ole Miss was down 17 points midway through the second half. The Rebels went on a 14-0 run to eventually get it back to one point down at 73-72. But they never led again as the Wildcats pulled away.
“Our guys found a way to fight back in the game,” Kennedy said.
With a diminished front line heading south for the weekend, the fight they’ll have to bring the rest of the season, or at least the foreseeable future, will have to be even stronger.