Unfortunately for White, watching the Bulldogs fall behind early and eventually lose to the Minutemen would have been a good lesson to learn from since it was the way the Bulldogs started that ended up hurting them in the loss, just like Ole Miss’ start hurt Wednesday.
Ole Miss was left to pick of the pieces of an early exit in the Men’s National Invitation Tournament on Wednesday night after Illinois State blistered them from behind the 3-point arc. The Redbirds were sensational shooting the ball on the Rebels’ home floor and there probably weren’t a lot of teams that could have stopped them the way they executed on offense.
The Rebels still made a game of it late despite a slow start, one White and Terrance Henry blamed on a lack of focus.
“Our focus wasn’t there. People were kind of down and I tried to let everyone know we still had ball to play but unfortunately we lost,” said Henry, who finished with 21 points. “I hate that it had to end like this. I wanted to be in New York to end my career but I had a great career and I’m ready to move on.”
Henry couldn’t pinpoint exactly why the Rebels started the game so lethargic. A lack of focus is something this year’s group has had trouble with. When the Rebels were inspired and doing the things they needed to do to win games, such as rebound and defend, they were good. When they didn’t play with high energy and hustle and most importantly, defend, they were routinely beaten. It’s the biggest reason they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament this year and why they are no longer playing past the first round of the NIT.
“I’ve been dealing with that a lot during my career here. What can you say? I don’t know,” Henry said as to why the team lacks focus from time to time.
Finding out how to correct the mistakes made against the Redbirds and in previous losses this year is the job of coach Andy Kennedy. He has to find the right chemistry earlier in the season and be able to harness better efforts throughout the year in order to finally achieve the one goal he has not been able to garner since he came to Oxford. Following Wednesday’s game, he said the team needs more scoring.
“It’s odd to say this after scoring 93 but we’ve got to get some offensive pop. We’re down three guards from where we started and two of those three I thought honestly would be 30 minute a game type guys,” Kennedy said. “We’ve got the majority of the guys on our front line returning. We will obviously miss Terrance and his presence. I thought he really tried for us at times. We’ve got to add some pieces. We got some (signees) early and we’ll try to add some late.”
Kennedy and his staff have done a good job filling in those pieces to the puzzle with the signature of two players in the first signing period and gaining two more commitments for the spring period that begins April 11. Addition by subtraction is something that Kennedy has had to deal with since he’s gotten to Ole Miss and for the most part, his moves have worked. But he still is searching for that elusive goal of making the four letter tournament and next year will be a big one for him and the team.
Athletes to build with
This year’s group of Rebels had a solid season. They did some things well such as rebound. Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich said the Rebels were the best rebounding squad his team faced, even better than Wichita State, a team that is a No. 5 seed in the NCAAs.
“They’re really tough, they’re really tough. This is the most physical, tough, athletic team that we’ve have played. We knew that coming in and that was the theme of our preparation. They’re the best offensive rebounding team we’ve played without question. Wichita State is a great offensive rebounding team but Ole Miss is better,” Jankovich said. “We had to shoot ball great to beat them. They got a lot more shots because of offensive rebounds. They got 11 more possessions on rebounds and six more possessions on turnovers. That’s 17 extra shots that they got and you have to shoot the ball really well to combat that. You got to have a lot of self confidence to go into an arena where they only lost two games all year. We respected this building, Andy and the job they do.”
It’s high praise from a coach that was once at Kansas and been around some athletic and rugged teams. The comments should make fans feel good about what Ole Miss can do next year if the right pieces are added to the puzzle. This year’s team simply had too many setbacks to overcome from a scoring deficiency and sometimes from a lack of focus. College players are college kids meaning there are going to be times where they don’t always give maximum effort. It’s just part of the equation, like it or not. The real key will be making sure next year’s Rebels give more than they did this year and improve on the scoring Kennedy knows they have to be better with.
There is a lot to look forward to in 2012-13, there is a lot of talent coming back and Kennedy has shown the ability to do a lot with a little. Next year is an important one, though, for a lot of different reasons and an early exit because of a lack of focus or scoring or some other reason likely won’t be looked at as favorably for everyone involved. (March 15, 2012, Page 7)