Saturday morning, Ole Miss shocked the college basketball world by upsetting top-seeded Syracuse in the vaunted Carrier Dome by a final score of 85-81.
While it may not be the NCAA tournament, the Rebels have a realistic chance to secure their spot as a team to watch out for in the 2017-18 season by advancing to the final four of the NIT. To earn their spot and a trip to the nation’s most famous area, Madison Square Garden, they’ll have to take on the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech.
Not only were the Rebels able to score 85 points on the road, they were able to battle and come out on top against a team that was considered a snub from March Madness. The teams traded baskets down the stretch, but a clutch 3-pointer from Deandre Burnett gave the Rebels a 77-74 lead with 3:25 remaining. Burnett finished with 19 points, with five 3s, but the true offensive explosion came from Terrence Davis. Davis scored 30 points while shooting an incredibly efficient 11-14 from the field, including going 6-7 from downtown. Coupled with Sebastian Saiz’ 22nd double-double of the season, Syracuse had no answer for the surging Rebel offense.
Cullen Neal chipped in 12 points, including a big 3 late in the second half. Freshman point guard Breein Tyree was a no-show against Syracuse, finishing with no points and went 0-6 from the field. If Tyree can have a bounce-back game against GT, it will add another dimension to the Rebel offense.
For the first two games of the NIT, Ole Miss has traveled and played some of their best basketball of the season. The reward for these performances is one last home game, and the Rebels have a chance to play in front of what should be a rocking crowd. If Ole Miss can replace their performances from earlier rounds, the Yellow Jackets will have their hands full. Tech has been an abysmal road team this season with a 2-11 record outside of their home in Atlanta, Georgia.
While the success hasn’t translated on the road, the Yellow Jackets are still a formidable opponent having knocked off top teams in the ACC throughout the season. They were able to defeat North Carolina, Florida State and Notre Dame with none of them scoring more than 63 points. Among the nation’s top defensive squads, Tech is sixth in the nation in defensive efficiency. A stifling defensive effort will give Ole Miss trouble if they are unable to adjust. Andy Kennedy must be willing to mix things up tonight and not rely too heavily on one player.
The NIT is clearly not the tournament you strive to be in, but the Rebels are making the most of their opportunity, and this effort will give them momentum heading into the offseason. It would’ve been easy to lay down and show little to no effort in this tournament, but the Rebels have done the exact opposite. Unwilling to accept just making it to 20-wins and calling it a successful season, the team has played some of their best basketball since the NIT began. With a solid recruiting class consisting of two players in the ESPN top 100, and a relatively young team, the Rebels will be looked at as a team that should make the NCAA tournament next season. A win tonight and a trip to NYC would cement this fact, but regardless, Ole Miss has put forth an effort that should give Rebel Nation a lot of hope for the future.
Tonight’s game will tip-off at 8 p.m., so come out to The Pavilion for one last time in the 2016-17 season. Tickets are still available on OleMissTix.com, and the first 1,000 students will get in free thanks to Andy Kennedy. If you can’t make it, the game will be televised on ESPN2 and the WatchESPN app. The radio broadcast will be available on the Ole Miss Radio Network and OleMissSports.com.
Steven Gagliano is a writer for HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.