OXFORD — The Ole Miss basketball team that demolished NC State on Tuesday night looked unlike anything Chris Beard’s Rebels had shown through their first five contests, in which they narrowly escaped scare after scare from foes outside the power conference sphere.
Suddenly against the Wolfpack, Ole Miss was disruptive, blocking nine shots and forcing seven steals among 13 NC State turnovers. The Rebels were defensively stout, holding NC State to under 32% from the field and 12% from 3-point range. Offensively, Beard’s team found some scoring depth. Jaemyn Brakefield, quiet for the first five games, posted a career-high 25 points as one of four Rebels with at least 12.
Was that performance against an NCAA Tournament team from last season a flash in the pan? A sign of things to come? Somewhere in between?
Memphis (5-1) is coming to the SJB Pavilion on Saturday (1 p.m., ESPN2) to help us find out.
“We’ll have to play our best 40 minutes of the season to this point, I think, to have some success in this game,” Beard said.
Ole Miss basketball in for most talented test yet
For the first time this season against the Wolfpack, the Rebels (6-0) looked like the kind of defensive juggernaut Beard has built at all of his previous coaching stops.
If they are to sustain that, they’ll have to do so against a remarkable collection of individual scoring talent.
Every player in Memphis’ typical starting five is a transfer, and each one of them averaged double figures at their previous institutions. The emergent scoring leader for Penny Hardaway’s team is 6-foot-6 St. John’s transfer David Jones, who has averaged 17.8 points per game while shooting better than 44% from 3-point range.
The Tigers cash in their 3-pointers at a more efficient rate than anyone else Ole Miss has played so far this season, hitting on 37.5% of them.
Like NC State, Memphis wants to play fast. The Rebels, one of the slowest-paced teams in college basketball, succeeded in slowing down the Wolfpack. Repeating the feat could lead to another strong defensive showing.
Moussa Cisse eligible for Ole Miss basketball
On his quest to solidify the Ole Miss defense, Beard can now count on one of the best defenders in college basketball.
Moussa Cisse, a 7-footer and former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, received news just before the Rebels clashed with NC State that he had been cleared to play by the NCAA. Like his teammate Brandon Murray, he had been awaiting a decision on his two-time transfer waiver. Murray has not yet received news.
Cisse, who began his career at Memphis, gives the Rebels a more mobile option in the middle. Jamarion Sharp, a 7-4 Western Kentucky transfer, is still learning how to defend on the perimeter effectively, Beard said.
How much exactly Beard plans to lean on Cisse at this point is unclear. He could have played against NC State but remained on the bench amid the short notice. Beard said it would be a “process” building Cisse into the team.
“Moussa’s done a lot of great stuff in college basketball,” Beard said. “We want him to expand on that. There’s some things defensively we think he can do in our system that he hasn’t had the opportunity to do in other systems, and that’s not being negative on his last two programs.
“Offensively, here’s a really interesting player. Works extremely hard. We believe he can play facing the basket and (with his) back to the basket.”
Ole Miss basketball vs. Memphis score prediction
Memphis 71, Ole Miss 68. The Rebels don’t have the shot-making ability to match up with the Tigers at this point in their program development. Making up for that would require another truly special defensive performance. It’s certainly doable, but probably not the most likely outcome.
David Eckert covers Ole Miss for the Clarion Ledger. Email him at email@example.com or reach him on Twitter @davideckert98.
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