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Ole Miss basketball drops third straight game in 75-63 loss at Kentucky

Ole Miss basketball
Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics

The Ole Miss men’s basketball team is now on a three-game losing streak following a 75-63 loss at Kentucky, putting the team in questionable standing in NCAA Tournament conversations.

Going into Tuesday’s contest, the Rebels (18-6, 5-6 SEC) had only beaten the Wildcats (17-7, 7-4 SEC) twice ever in Rupp Arena and trends did not change during the midweek showdown.

A Kentucky team desperate for a win at home took advantage of a rough offensive night for first-year Ole Miss head coach Chris Beard’s team. The Wildcats had dropped three straight games at home but took down the Rebels to prevent a fourth consecutive letdown from being reflected in the loss column.

A quick scoring stint from guards Allen Flanigan and Matthew Murrell got Ole Miss up to a 5-0 lead early. A trio of blocked shots by Kentucky big man Ugonna Onyenso within a two-minute stretch gave the Wildcats’ offense a boost to post a 9-5 advantage with 16:20 left in the half.

The Rebels responded, partially due to a pair of successful triples and a jumper from Murrell which put the team up 23-18 in enemy territory with just over seven minutes until the midway break. That’s when it all unraveled for Ole Miss.

Kentucky began to catch an offensive groove in which Antonio Reeves and Tre Mitchell, who later exited the game with a shoulder injury, scored with ease. On the other side, Ole Miss’ offense struggled to overcome the defensive pressure levied by its conference counterpart and shots were either blocked by Onyenso or just didn’t fall. The Wildcats closed out the half on a 25-6 run to hold a 43-28 lead at the intermission.

With their backs against the wall in a seemingly impossible venue to find a victory, Ole Miss showed courage early in the second half, opening the last 20 minutes of action on a 13-4 run to get back within six. However, John Calipari’s team was not willing to let the Rebels play spoiler.

Wildcat guard Rob Dillingham landed a triple that was followed up by an Onyenso dunk to put Kentucky back up double-digits with 14:29 left in the game. At that moment, Ole Miss went cold from the floor when the team could not afford to miss shots.

While Kentucky did not have a stellar night offensively, shooting woes for Beard’s team kept them from ever making a real push after its one early second half. The Rebels had numerous opportunities to cut into the deficit down the stretch and garner momentum, but open look after open look did not fall, and when Ole Miss did make a shot, it was countered by a make or two on the other end.

The Rebels did keep the final score competitive though. Kentucky led by as many as 17 in the second half, but Ole Miss managed to earn enough points to keep the final score from looking entirely lopsided.

Ole Miss was 38% on field goal attempts, an unusually low 23% from behind the arc, and connected on just 56% of shots from the charity stripe. Kentucky, on the other hand, was 52% from the floor, 33% from three, and 76% from the free throw line.

Three Rebels reached double-digits on the scoreboard. Murrell and Brakefield led the way with 16 points apiece. Flanigan had 10. On the defensive side, the team forced Kentucky to cough the ball up 15 times, scoring 21 points off the turnovers.

Reeves led the Wildcats in scoring with 15 points. The biggest story of the night was Odensya’s 10 blocks, nine of which were recorded in the first half. The double-digit block night for the big man tied a Rupp Arena record previously set by David Robinson. Swats aside, Ole Miss somehow had 32 points in the paint.

Ole Miss will return to the SJB Pavilion on Saturday night to take on Missouri in a must-win if the team wants to keep NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

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