ATLANTA — The explanation was simple as to what Ole Miss needs this week if it wants to make another deep run in this year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Somebody other than the Rebels’ second-team All-SEC performers is going to have to produce.
Jarvis Summers and Marshall Henderson have been there all season for the Rebels, who begin tournament play late Thursday night against Wednesday’s Mississippi State-Vanderbilt winner. Henderson’s 19 points per game rank third in the SEC while Summers’ 16.9 come in at eighth. Summers has developed into one the league’s best all-around players as he’s the only player to rank in the conference’s top 10 in scoring and field goal percentage (48.3) and top five in assists (3.8 per game).
After that, production has been scarce. Ole Miss’ next highest scoring starter is forward Anthony Perez at 7.2 points per contest. Fellow forward Aaron Jones, another starter, is grabbing 6.7 rebounds per game but is averaging just six points a night.
None of that is likely to change this week, but it’s unrealistic to expect the Rebels to last long if other pieces can’t help Summers and Henderson more than that.
“They’ve got to carry us,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said, pointing to Henderson and Summers seated next to him during the team’s pre-tournament press conference Wednesday afternoon at the Georgia Dome. “If they play well and we get some contributions as you ask from the guys that have shown capable, then we’ve got a chance to stay around a few days.”
A majority of the inconsistency has resided down low. Freshman forward Sebastian Saiz is the only other player averaging more than five boards a game for the Rebels, who own the SEC’s fourth-worst rebounding margin (-2.6). None of the Rebels’ regulars in the post are shooting better than 45 percent, frustrating Kennedy with their inability to finish around the rim.
It’s led to a revolving door of interior starters late in the season.
Saiz has started just two of the last six games after starting the previous nine. Freshman forward Dwight Coleby drew his first of three consecutive starts against Georgia on Feb. 15 and has gotten double-digit minutes in each of the last three games while junior center Demarco Cox, who started the first 15 games of the season, has nearly been removed from the equation all together, playing more than 12 minutes just once since the calendar flipped to February.
What combination the Rebels decide to go with in tomorrow’s game is still a mystery.
“I’m still thinking about who’s starting tomorrow night in our frontcourt,” said Kennedy, who’s even had to slide Perez, a more natural 3, inside at times to help out. “That’s not a very good sign when you’re embarking on your conference tournament, but it’s just who we are.”
With Ole Miss’ only chance of returning to the NCAA Tournament being to defend their tournament crown, the Rebels need all of their parts to work starting Thursday.
“Everybody’s just got to step up and play their part,” Summers said. “We just have to come together as a team.” (March 12, 2014)