After suffering their first loss of the season, Ole Miss (6-1) will make a much needed return to the Tad Smith Coliseum on Friday. Saturday saw the Rebels score a season-low 62 points and commit a season-high 17 turnovers in a 65-62 loss to Middle Tennessee State in Murfreesboro. It is certainly an RPI hit for Andy Kennedy’s club as the Blue Raiders came into that game with a loss to Akron on their resume and fell to Belmont 64-49 on Thursday night.
Sometimes ditching the invincibility complex and losing your first game helps a team going forward, something that Kennedy hopes is the case considering the Rebels have just two more games before they head to Hawaii in a tournament that features top 25 Arizona and San Diego State among others.
One of the other teams playing in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic is Friday’s opponent, East Tennessee State. The Bucs are struggling this season against a tough early schedule that featured road trips to Virginia Tech and North Carolina, and the loss of all five starters from last season’s 17-14 team. In their five losses, ETSU has lost by a combined 85 points, including anemic offensive production. The Bucs scored 38 against Georgia and 45 against James Madison, teams with a combined 5-12 record.
The Buccaneers only have 11 players on their current roster, and only 2 of those 11 are seniors. Marcus Dubose and Sheldon Cooley, their second and third leading scorers, were kicked off the team earlier this season after they were charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. These losses have been crushing for a team that struggles to score points with the two, but now has to face the rest of the season without them.
Point guard has been a huge problem for the Bucs so far this season. Freshman Petey McClain has assumed the starting duties for Cooley and the learning curve has been rough for the Mobile, Ala. native. Before suffering an ankle injury, he was averaging 4.0 ppg, 36. apg, and 3.4 tpg while shooting just 33.3 percent from the field. Rashawn Rembert filled in for McClain against North Carolina and finished with 18 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. Unfortunately, he also had 5 turnovers in the game. Mario Stramaglia also filled in some at point guard and finished with 0 points, 1 assist, and 7 turnovers in 27 minutes.
Lester Wilson has flourished this season after he was redshirted in 2011-12. The forward leads the team in scoring and rebounding at 18.7 ppg and 6.9 rpg. He’s shooting 41.8 percent from three-point range and has been a do-it-all forward for them at just 6’4. He’ll be a tough cover for whoever gets his assignment whether it’s Nick Williams, Murphy, Holloway, or Snoop White.
This could be the perfect rebound for the Rebels as they need to get back to winning the turnover battle and the Bucs are a team that turns it over a lot. ETSU turns it over 14 times per game while picking up his 7 steals per game. If Ole Miss can get some turnovers and get running in the first half, this could be a nice confidence boosting game for Kennedy’s club. North Carolina put pressure on the Bucs early and were able to take a 42-12 lead into halftime before coasting in the second half.
It is important for Marshall Henderson to get his stroke back as he has struggled in the last few games beyond the arc. Holloway would like to refine his touch a little more and get back on track. A win in this one would not erase Saturday’s loss, but a loss here would be catastrophic as the Rebels hit the road to Los Angeles and don’t return home for three weeks. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Tad Smith Coliseum.