ATLANTA — There was a time Thursday night when it looked like Ole Miss wouldn’t make it to the third day of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Friday. But the Rebels are here, and they’ll get a shot at the local team tonight.
Ole Miss’ offense came to life late in its tournament opener against Mississippi State as the Rebels scored 40 of the game’s final 55 points to crawl out of a 13-point second-half hole for a 78-66 win. The win earned Ole Miss a quarterfinal matchup against Georgia in today’s late game, which will tip at approximately 8:30 p.m. at the Georgia Dome.
Georgia (18-12 overall) is one of the league’s hotter teams entering the tournament, winners of eight of its last 10 games. The Bulldogs, the tournament’s No. 3 seed, got a double bye after finishing in a tie for second in the final regular-season standings.
Getting a hot team in its own back yard only makes Ole Miss’ task taller.
“We know it will be a battle,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “We’re back on their home turf. They have earned that.”
The Rebels (19-13) have already played Georgia in the Peach State, 70 miles up the road in Athens. The Bulldogs eeked out a 61-60 win in the teams’ lone regular-season meeting on Feb. 15.
Neither team put on a shooting exhibition. Ole Miss shot 32.2 percent from the floor while Georgia nearly mirrored it with a 32.7-percent clip. The Bulldogs had the ball last and won it on a free throw from Charles Mann after Mann got freshman center Dwight Coleby in the air with a shot fake and drew a foul with 1.2 seconds left.
Ole Miss is eager to settle the score.
“Oh yeah, we’re definitely ready to play them again,” said Marshall Henderson, who scored a team-high 24 points for the Rebels that day. “They got us. … We had our chances, had a couple of bone-head mistakes that hurt us in the end. But we’re excited for the opportunity to play them again.”
That offensive output wasn’t far from the norm for Georgia, which enters the game ranked ninth in the league in both scoring offense (69.2 points per game) and field goal percentage (44.2). Mann and Kenny Gaines, who each average 13.4 points a night, should make for an intriguing guard matchup with Henderson and Jarvis Summers. The duo combined for 38 points in the first meeting.
But Kennedy said where the Bulldogs have “changed their identity” is in the frontcourt. Forwards Marcus Thornton and Donte Williams are combining for 13.5 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. Fellow forward Nemanja Djurisic is providing 8.9 points and 4.1 boards off the bench.
Georgia is fifth in the SEC in rebounding margin (+5) and was plus-15 on the glass against Ole Miss the first time, led by Thornton’s 11 boards. Ole Miss is minus-2.6 on the boards this season.
“They’ve got a good basketball team,” Kennedy said. “It’s going to be a hard matchup for us.” (March 14, 2014)