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Ole Miss basketball suffers first home loss of season against Auburn

Ole Miss basketball
Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics

The Ole Miss men’s basketball team’s winning streak at home came to an end on Saturday with a 91-77 loss against No. 16 Auburn.

College basketball is a game of two halves, and while the Rebels (18-4, 5-4 SEC) swung hard in the first, the Tigers (18-4, 7-2 SEC) displayed pure dominance in the second to finalize a clean sweep against Ole Miss in the regular season.

Ole Miss got started early. A pair of triples by senior guards Matthew Murrell and Allen Flanigan gave the Rebels a 6-0 lead a little over a minute into the game. The Rebels, with a sold-out SJB Pavilion to their advantage, stepped on the gas, getting big man Moussa Cisse involved offensively to take a 12-3 lead at the 16:24 minute mark.

Though Auburn did not shoot particularly well in the opening minutes of the game, a trio of successful triples allowed the Tigers to prevent a total offensive onslaught from Ole Miss. Nonetheless, first-year Rebel head coach Chris Beard’s team found ways to build upon its lead.

With 12:23 left in the half, Ole Miss took its first double-digit lead of the game, but the Tigers countered to cut the deficit to five. Ole Miss responded with a strong run in the next seven minutes of action, taking a 39-26 lead with 3:39 left in the half to get the crowd on its collective set of feet.

Auburn closed out the final minutes relatively strong. Denver Jones hit a triple in the waning seconds of the half to bring the deficit back within single digits. Ole Miss posted a 44-35 lead at the intermission, but the late three-pointer gave Auburn a large wave of momentum that would ultimately swing the pendulum in the Tigers’ favor.

The Rebels’ lead did not last long. Auburn opened the second half on a 15-6 run to tie things up at 50 with 15:30 on the clock. Ole Miss managed to keep things competitive for the next 10 minutes to make up for the avalanche of Auburn scoring that ensued, but it was not enough.

Auburn big man Johnni Broome, though scoreless in the first half, came to life in the second and scored nearly at will on the Rebels to help catapult the Tigers ahead on the scoreboard. Broome’s resurgence partially came as a result of an adjustment head coach Bruce Pearl made to have his team attack the basket more in the final 20 minutes.

The Tigers’ guards were more aggressive, opening up opportunities for Broome and forward Jaylin Williams to have easy looks at the glass — though the two did plenty of scoring without any added assistance.

With just under six minutes left in the game, Ole Miss trailed 73-69 and that was the closest the team would be to a lead for the remainder of the contest. Auburn closed out on an 18-8 run to put it away.

In all, the Tigers scored 56 second-half points to run away with the game and record a final score of 91-77 — ending a 12-game home winning streak Beard had built in his first season at the helm.

“I thought we looked physically tired at times and I thought the mental toughness wasn’t there,” Beard said of his team’s performance. “When you play this game, there’s going to be some times where you’re physically fatigued, and that’s where mental toughness kicks in. I did not like our mental toughness tonight … we had multiple players take plays off when they appeared to be physically tired.”

Auburn grabbed 16 more rebounds than Ole Miss. In the second half, the Tigers were 22-30, or 73%, from the floor. The Rebels turned it over three fewer times in the contest. However, Ole Miss only coughed it up twice in the first half, but six times in the final 20 minutes.

Leading the way for Ole Miss in the tough loss was Flanigan, who scored 20. Murrell had 18 points, Brakefield recorded 15, and Cisse had an unusually high 12. It was not the best day for Jaylen Murray. The junior who has arguably been the backbone of the team was quiet offensively, scoring just four points.

Though Broome was the key factor in the Tigers’ comeback, Pearl’s team scored by committee with four other players eclipsing double-digits. Williams led in scoring with 16.

Ole Miss was without seven-foot-five center Jamarion Sharp in Saturday’s game. Beard confirmed that the big man is suffering from an unspecified illness and is day-to-day. The Rebels will look to get the sour taste of being swept by a conference opponent out of their mouth in a Tuesday night game at South Carolina beginning at 5:30 p.m. CT.

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