Ole Miss men’s hoops ends four-game skid, takes down Florida
OLE MISS ATHLETICS- The Rebels could not miss in the second half, as the Ole Miss men’s basketball team lit the net on fire in the latter 20 minutes en route to a 70-54 victory over Florida at SJB Pavilion on Monday night to open up a three-game homestand over the next five days.
Ole Miss (10-9, 2-5 SEC) battled through a low-scoring first half, but found its rhythm in the second, shooting 73.9 percent from the field on 17-of-23 shooting — the best second half shooting performance against an SEC opponent since 2008 (March 1, 2008, vs. Alabama, 18-24, .750) and best overall in the second half since 2009 (Dec. 23, 2009, vs. Centenary, 21-28, .750). The Rebels doubled-down, forcing the Gators (12-7, 3-4 SEC) to an Ole Miss SEC season-low 13.8 percent from beyond the arc on a 4-of-29 performance.
The Rebels were all-around efficient, and not just shooting the ball. Ole Miss turned 14 Florida turnovers into a whopping SEC season-high 23 points, in addition to tying an SEC season-high with 17 assists on 25 made field goals.
“It was good to see tonight. We withstood runs, and obviously Mike [White] does such a good job with how hard they play and just their ability to be a pressing team,” said Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis. “It always makes you nervous when you’re behind a team that presses all the time, and I thought we handled that pressure well with 17 assists, 10 turnovers and four guys in double figures.”
Those four Rebels in double-digits combined for 62 of the 70 total points scored by Ole Miss on Monday night, and were led by two superb outings from freshman Daeshun Ruffin and sophomore Matthew Murrell. Ruffin ended the night with a career-high 21 points and a 9-of-10 clip from the charity stripe to go along with six assists, four steals and two rebounds. Murrell found his hot shooting hand again, ending with 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting and a 3-of-6 line from beyond the arc – his sixth game with at least three trifectas this season, four of which have come during SEC play.
Other Rebels in double-digit scoring were Nysier Brooks (11 points, seven rebounds, two steals, one assist, one block) and Luis Rodriguez (10 points, seven rebounds, two assists).
The first half proved to be a tale of two quarters, as the Gators jumped out to an early advantage behind a quick 6-0 scoring run from 14:11 to 13:01. However, the latter half of the opening 20 minutes went in favor of the Rebels, with Ole Miss holding Florida to just three points over the last 8:18 of the first half, going on a 10-3 run during that stretch to take the game into the locker room knotted up at 22-22.
Ole Miss’ opening frame saw just three Rebels responsible for the team’s 22 first half points, with Murrell (9 points), Brooks (7 points) and Ruffin (6 points) carrying the load for the Rebels offensively.
In the second half, the Rebels were able to break down the Gators on both sides of the ball by recording five steals, while also shooting the white-hot aforementioned 73.9 percent from the field in the final 20 minutes. Ole Miss’ 2018 matchup against San Diego State marks the last time that the Rebels were able to connect on 70 percent or more of their field goals in the second half.
“We’ve looked at all of these second half stats, and something like us being plus-seven in the first half and minus-21 in the second half of SEC games. We just haven’t been executing,” Davis said. “I thought tonight [Ruffin] ran our team better, but I tell you what helped was getting him and Austin Crowley to play together. Against a pressing team we had two point guards out there, and I thought that really helped us.”
For Ruffin, tonight’s performance cemented his role as a key player for the Rebels – particularly in the absence of senior stalwart Jarkel Joiner. Since Joiner’s back injury, Ruffin has started each of the last seven games, and in that span he is averaging 11.3 points, 4.6 assists, 3.0 steals and 1.3 rebounds per game, while also averaging 30.6 minutes per game after only tallying 17.3 minutes prior.
“We made it a focus where I’m going to come into practice and I’m going to be a leader,” Ruffin said. “I’m the point guard on the team, so I need to do all of the little things, like starting on defense or starting on offense. I credit our vets because they put the pressure on me to do it, and they believe in me that I can do it, so I’m just thankful for that confidence.”
Powered by a 15-4 Rebel run from 15:06 to 10:09 that included three pointers from Murrell and Rodriguez, as well as a Sammy Hunter slam dunk, Ole Miss turned on the afterburners and didn’t look back as the team sailed to the eventual 70-54 win.
The Rebels will have little downtime before the next game, as the Rebels are set to host the Arkansas Razorbacks (14-5, 4-3 SEC) at SJB Pavilion on Wednesday night. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. CT on SEC Network.