For the first time this season, the Ole Miss Rebels (7-1) will play a game outside of the Central Time Zone when they travel to Los Angeles to face Loyola Marymount (5-4) on Wednesday. Any interested Rebel fans will have to take to their favorite coffee and/or bourbon if they are to watch this one that starts at 8 p.m. local time and 10 in Oxford. This will be the first game in two weeks for the Lions as they took an extended break due to final exams. LMU was victorious that day as they defeated the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks in overtime, 92-86.
Marshall Henderson broke through his poor shooting streak Friday night when he went 6-13 from three-point-range in an otherwise mundane 77-55 win over East Tennessee State. Another good sign for the Rebels was seeing Derrick Milinghaus recovering from a disastrous outing against MTSU with 9 points, 2 assists, 3 steals, and just 1 turnover.
Despite the positives, some common faults shone through for Ole Miss: foul shooting, fouls, and turnovers. The Rebels shot 61.1 percent from the line, bringing the team down to 272nd in the nation at 64.3 percent. They also registered 20 fouls in the game, including 7 by Murphy Holloway and Jarvis Summers, limiting the pair to just 37 combined minutes. While Ole Miss did win the turnover battle, 18 turnovers just is not going to cut it once conference play begins.
The Lions are best remembered for their time under former Lakers coach Paul Westphal who led the Lions to an NCAA-record 122.4 ppg in 1990. Behind star USC-transfers Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers, the Lions became a national powerhouse. After Gathers collapsed and subsequently died during a game in the 1990 WCC tournament, the Lions made a remarkable run to the Elite Eight. The school has not returned to the tournament since.
Third-year coach Max Good led LMU to a 21-13 record last season, with three wins over top 25 opponents on the season. The Lions return three starters from last year’s squad and have gotten off to a 5-4 start with three of the losses coming by 10 points or less.
Loyola Marymount, while not as talented at the forward positions, can match Ole Miss’s size at the positions. They typically rotate five forwards into their two forward offense. Ranging from 6’5-6’8, the Lions are led by British-born Ashley Hamilton and Nigerian-born Godwin Okonji. Hamilton is second on the team with 15.7 ppg while leading the team with 7.7 rpg. One of just two seniors on the team, Hamilton has been a constant for the Lions. Okonji has struggled so far this season, averaging just 3.8 rpg despite being the second tallest player on the team, but took down 9 rebounds against the Lumberjacks.
Okonji is very good with clearing the ball out when he is in trouble, but the same cannot be said for Hamilton. The senior struggles with his ball handling at times and leads the team with a 3.3 tpg average. The turnover margin for LMU is 204th in the nation in turnover margin at -3, compared to Ole Miss who is 6th at +54.
Summers and Millinghaus will have their work cut out for them as they go up against one of the top point guards in the country in Anthony Ireland. The Connecticut native leads the team in points (21.1), assists (4.4), steals (2.0), and is third on the team in rebounds at 5.4, despite being just 5’10. The point guard driven offense also features a more than capable backup in Chase Flint who is averaging 4 apg. The two often get paired together in the back court with Ireland being more turnover prone and Flint being the more reliable passer.
Loyola does not play much pressure defense, but the Rebels will need to play pressure defense to limit big games out of Hamilton and Ireland. The two are easy to defeat if they turn the ball over, otherwise they can be a lethal inside-out combo. This will be up to Summers and Holloway early and Millinghaus and Snoop White throughout.
The Lions are a good shooting team and when they get hot from outside, it is contagious. Hamilton, Ireland, Bruce English, and Ayodeji Egbeyemi are all lethal shooters when they are hot. Ole Miss will have to continue their stellar perimeter defense to force the Lions into bad shots. Open looks and easy ball movement could spell success for the Lions, but if the Rebels can take that away, their chances improve dramatically.
Proving that they can go out west and win an OOC road game could be big for the team’s psyches as well as a notch on the resume. A loss could prove to be a hindering bump in the road for a team that has earned the highest expectations in Andy Kennedy’s tenure. Game time is set for Wednesday 10 p.m. CT from Los Angeles. The game can be found on ESPNU.