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Ole Miss basketball survives second half surge by Missouri to squeak out 84-78 win on the road

Ole Miss basketball
Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics

The Ole Miss men’s basketball team, on life support in its pursuit to appear in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, found an 84-78 win on the road versus a Missouri group desperate for a conference victory.

After leading by 19 at the half and looking to run the Tigers (8-21, 0-16 SEC) out of their home arena, the Rebels (20-9, 7-9 SEC) ended up holding on for dear life to squeak out a win in a game that just about got away from them down the stretch.

Ole Miss dominated all facets of the first half and found much-needed production from big man Jamarion Sharp, but the script was completely flipped in the final 20 minutes of action as Missouri’s Sean East worked to will his team to its first SEC win of the season.

The Wildcats opened the game on a 10-5 run, but the pendulum swung entirely in the Rebels’ direction. A Matthew Murrell triple opened the floodgates of Ole Miss scoring while Missouri went without connecting on a field goal for eight minutes.

Missouri’s dry span was highlighted by Sharp, a seven-foot-five center, having a strong presence in the paint. The big man accounted for five blocks in the first half and his stature posed a threat to any attempt at a drive to the bucket by a Wildcat ball handler. Meanwhile, on the offensive side for Ole Miss, Jaylen Murray began to heat up, flushing a trio of triples to end a lull he had battled over the past few games.

The Rebels even found buckets in the paint where they have struggled in conference play. Jaemyn Brakefield had one of his most aggressive halves in an Ole uniform, scoring down low and getting to the free throw line to help pile on the points. Amid persistent offensive stagnation by Missouri, Ole Miss closed out the half with a 45-26 lead, looking to make a statement on the road.

Things took an entirely different turn after the intermission and Ole Miss’ big lead slowly faded away. Brakefield split a pair of free throws to put the Rebels up 20, but the Tigers did not lay down.

While Missouri proceeded to shoot at an incredibly high rate, Ole Miss found clutch looks, especially ones from behind the arc, from Murray and Murrell to maintain a double-digit advantage, prompting Missouri head coach Dennis Gates to play a little chess.

In an attempt to limit the Rebels’ scoring abilities while giving the Tigers extra possessions, Gates, oddly using his opponent being in the double-bonus to his advantage, had his guys locate Ole Miss big man Moussa Cisse, a subpar free throw shooter, and foul him to send him to the charity stripe. The strategy worked as the seven-foot Oklahoma State transfer missed his next four free throws, opening the door for Missouri to cut the deficit to single digits for the first time in the half.

Gates didn’t stop there. The second-year Tiger frontman then dialed up a full-court press, forcing Chris Beard’s crew to cough up the ball twice in a row following Cisse’s unsuccessful attempts at the free throw line. With 4:11 on the clock, Missouri trailed by just seven points and had new life as well as a viable chance to win the game.

Missed free throws on Ole Miss’ end permitted a red-hot Missouri offense to get eerily close to flipping the scoreboard. Two unsuccessful free shots by Sharp and a turnover by Murrell later, East found himself at the charity stripe with a chance to put Missouri within two points — and he did.

With 1:45 left to go, the Wildcats had taken the reigns of Saturday night’s game, but Ole Miss found much-needed fortune. After TJ Caldwell split a pair of free throws to put the Rebels up three, Missouri’s Anthony Shaw missed a pair of free shots, and Brakefield connected on one of the most crucial buckets of the night to give Ole Miss a 76-71 lead with 55 seconds left in the contest.

As soon as Ole Miss had regained momentum, Austin Nunez was whistled for fouling Missouri’s Nick Honor during a three-point shot. The Tiger guard flushed all three free throws to put his team back within one score. Murrell, making an aggressive move to the basket, drew a foul and extended Ole Miss’ advantage to four with 35 seconds remaining.

Honor, feeling a hot hand, heaved up a triple, but missed and Missouri was forced to foul Brakefield with 18 seconds left in the game. Brakefield sank both shots to ultimately put things out of reach, ending the rollercoaster ride in Columbia and a three-game losing streak to give the Rebels their second SEC victory in an opponent’s arena.

Murrell, the conference’s sixth-best scorer, led Ole Miss with 21 points and was 56% from behind the arc. Brakefield and Murray also helped boost their team to victory, scoring 19 and 16 respectively, in a game where Allen Flanigan only saw nine minutes of action.

East’s 27 points led the way for Missouri. Four other Tigers reached double-figures on the scoreboard. Bates and Shaw had 13 apiece while Honor had 12.

Ole Miss, on the outside looking in for a chance to make it to the big dance for the first time since 2019, will travel to Athens on Tuesday to take on Georgia, led by former Rebel point guard Mike White, at 6 p.m. CT.

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