Ole Miss Cruises Past Sam Houston State, 82-69
Dec. 13, 2017
By Brian Scott Rippee, OleMissSports.com
The Rebels (5-4) have struggled in the frontcourt at times this year. When the team has struggled, the post presence has been absent more times than not. Wednesday was a sight for Andy Kennedy’s sore eyes as he watched Bruce Stevens score 13 points and snag 3 rebounds in 17 minutes. Dominik Olejniczak was 3 of 3 from the field for six points and snared four boards in 10 minutes of play. The seven-footer played well enough to earn more minutes, but Sam Houston State showed a small lineup most of the night and Kennedy was forced to adjust.
Stevens has started the last two games as Kennedy has tried to mold this team into consistency. He has answered the call by scoring 23 in the last two contests.
“Bruce is a really good back-to-the-basket player,” Kennedy said. “There are certain things you see and say ‘okay that is going to work tonight because we are playing a team we are better than. Is that going to work in the hard games, the games we haven’t won yet?’ I think what Bruce does transfers. He’s big, he’s quick and he creates space with his body and makes tough-angle shots.”
Kennedy did not undersell the importance of the junior Stevens giving effective minutes citing that he also needs to improve defensively.
“We’re trying to establish a post presence, and he is our best option,” Kennedy said. “The problem is on the defensive end because we have to go tit for tat with him. He’s got to get better defensively. If he gets better defensively our team can take that next step.”
Markel Crawford led all scorers with 16 points, and he got started early. The junior scored 14 in the first half highlighted by three consecutive three’s that helped Ole Miss hop out to a 30-11 lead and forced the Bearkats (5-5) to call a timeout.
“Whenever a player sees his shot go in when he’s been struggling is a big plus,” Crawford said. “Seeing that shot go in helped me in other aspects of the game.”
Crawford saw a couple go in and became more aggressive than he has been all year on the offensive end. His 16 points came efficiently as he was 6 of 11 from the field.
“Just being aggressive all over the floor,” Crawford said. “Being in the right spot and being down and ready to shoot. Those first eight games I wasn’t always down and ready but now that I have seen a couple go in my confidence is up.”
Sam Houston State missed 11 of its first 14 shots and were 26 of 64 (40.6%) on the night. The Bearkats cut the lead to as few as six before the half as the Rebels held a 39-33 lead at the break.
That was as close as the game ever got. Ole Miss pushed the lead out to 17 within the first seven minutes of the second half and Sam Houston State trimmed the lead marginally a couple of times but never got within threatening distance. Kennedy was pleased with the way his team played in spurts, but would like to see his team keep its foot on the gas when it has a comfortable lead.
“We are not playing with that sense of urgency,” Kennedy said. “It is the same thing I keep saying. They hear it every single day that they have to believe and buy in.”
This was an important win for a team that has been struggling of late. Ole Miss handled an inferior opponent fairly easily. There were things that could’ve been better. Kennedy still has defensive concerns as well as ones related to lapses in the team’s energy. But when asked his main takeaway from the night, Kennedy kept it relatively simple.
“We won,” he said. “It has been a long time since we won.”
Ole Miss returns to action on Saturday against Illinois State. Tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m. inside The Pavilion and can be seen on SEC Network.
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