OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) - The Ole Miss hoops team put together its best defensive performance of the season in an 82-59 win over Bradley Friday night in The Pavilion. The Rebels (7-5) held the Braves to 32.3 percent shooting from the floor, while forcing 22 turnovers to earn a victory heading into the holiday break.
Head coach Andy Kennedy has implored his team to play with a sense of urgency over the last month and a half that has seen the team dig itself in some pretty large holes and drop three home games in overtime. Tonight, the script was flipped as the Rebels constructed a comfortable lead in the game's early minutes and did not let up for the duration.
Bradley struggled mightily shooting the basketball. A team that shot 51 percent in its last two games went just 1 of 8 (12.5 percent) in the first half from deep and 7 of 28 (25.0 percent) from the field as Ole Miss raced ahead of the Braves in the early going. A couple of early turnovers aided the Rebels in jumping out to a 13-4 lead.
Terence Davis then entered the game and made the first three 3-point shots he looked at in a span of three minutes to balloon the lead to 24-9. Davis had a season high 25 points on the night and 17 of them came in the first half.
"It felt pretty good," Davis said. "I had a rhythm going. I felt pretty good."
Ole Miss went into the halftime locker room leading 40-20 thanks to eight three-pointers and 15 field goals on 33 shots in the opening half. The Rebels turned Bradley over 22 times on the night, and 13 of them came in the first 20 minutes. Defensive lapses and on-ball defense have hurt Ole Miss in its previous struggles, but it was certainly active on the defensive end for a full 40 minutes on this night.
The second half was a similar story. Bradley thinly cut into the lead a couple of times, but Ole Miss had an answer at the offensive end each time. The Rebels have shot the ball better in the last two games than they have all season. The team is 26 of 57 (45.6 percent) from three-point range in its last two games. The sense of urgency that's been lacking stayed with them throughout. Ole Miss led by as many as 30 in this game and won comfortably to close out the majority of the non-conference season.
"I do think we are beginning to understand the thin line between winning and misery," Kennedy said. "Unfortunately for us, I think we have been on the wrong side of that too many times to this point in the season. It really is a thin line, a play here or there. As we approach the holiday break, which is needed, we will come back and it is now SEC play. These guys will be excited about the opportunities."
Davis handled the bulk of the scoring, but a few others got involved as well. Markel Crawford had 16 points on 6 of 15 shooting. Deandre Burnett had an efficient 10 points on four shots and Bruce Stevens added 11 points and five rebounds. Davis was being run off a variety of different screening actions. Kennedy said the numbers show that Davis is much better when he is catching and shooting as opposed to shooting off the dribble.
"His teammates did a good job of finding him when he was catching-and-shooting and not doing too much off the dribble," Kennedy said. "His percentages skew dramatically when he shoots off the catch as opposed to dribbling."
Ole Miss had 18 assists on 29 field goals and is looking more like a cohesive unit on the offensive end of the floor. Bradley came into the game giving up just 59 points per game. Ole Miss matched that in 29 minutes. The guards are beginning to make better decisions on a more consistent basis. It is not a coincidence the team is shooting the ball better as a result.
"Deandre (Burnett) and Breein (Tyree) are making good decisions with the ball," Kennedy said. "Those are things we are going to have to do to win SEC games."
Kennedy thought it was the best the team has looked defensive all season even with the way they shot the basketball on the other end. Bradley was 20 of 62 (32.3 percent) from the field for the game.
"For about 30 minutes I thought we were really locked in," Kennedy said. "Our ball screen defense has been bad and it has led to breakdowns. I thought our ball screen defense was as good as it has been all year."
The performance will give the team something positive to build off of as it heads into a nine-day layoff before opening SEC play against South Carolina on New Year's Eve.
"We have a lot of things we need to work on," Davis said. "But I think our mindset is now where it needs to be as a whole."
Kennedy acknowledged non-conference play has been a struggle at times and losing three home games has hurt them. But he thinks this team is starting to find its identity and is certainly encouraged by that is it heads into the most important portion of the season.
"I am encouraged that these guys are starting to understand who we are," Kennedy said. "We have to be blue-collar. Sometimes it is hard to accept that because blue-collar is hard. It is not easy but that is the way we have to play."
Next up, the Rebels begin conference action. Tipoff against South Carolina is slated for 5 p.m. on ESPN2 (Dec. 31).
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The Rebels forced a season-high 22 turnovers and held Bradley to only 32.3 percent from the floor.
Ole Miss went with its eighth different starting lineup of the season through 12 games.
Terence Davis scored 25 points off the bench, his fourth 20-point game of the season; Davis reached double digits for the 25th time in the last 27 games dating back to last season.
The Rebels held a 40-20 lead at the break; the 20 points were the fewest Ole Miss has allowed in a half this season.
Ole Miss got 41 points from its bench, the fifth time this season that the bench has accounted for at least 40 points.
In the last minute of the game, three Rebels made their season debuts: senior Lane Below, sophomore Eric Horn and redshirt-freshman Antonio Morgano; it was the first career appearances for Horn and Morgano.