Ole Miss basketball erases double-digit deficit to top UT Martin

David Eckert
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

OXFORD —  Ole Miss basketball has spent the early portion of its season dancing with potentially damaging home losses.

The Rebels waltzed their way out of trouble once again Friday at the SJB Pavilion, topping UT Martin 72-68 to stay perfect so far.

Ole Miss (4-0) trailed by 12 points at the 17:38 mark of the second half, a deficit constructed thanks to a stagnant offense and a defense that didn't always cope well with UT Martin's (2-3) aggressiveness.

The Rebels made their run when they became the aggressors themselves early in the second half, taking their first lead of the second half with 12:43 to play and holding off the Skyhawks late.

"We got out-coached, we got out-physicaled for a long period of time," Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis said postgame. "They looked like the SEC team around the goal. We didn't. Finishing balls. Going back and chasing 50/50 balls. With that being said, proud of our team, the way we find ways to win games."

Rebels close the gap

Ole Miss brought itself back into the game by making things chaotic for their visitors, who looked far too comfortable on offense during the first 20-plus minutes of the game.

Davis opted for a more aggressive plan on defense, at times extending beyond the halfcourt line and turning to a 1-3-1 zone that generated numerous deflections. After making that tweak, Ole Miss owned the passing lanes.

"I thought that changed the flow of the game, got them out of the flow on offense," Davis said. "Even some of the plays they made were hard plays."

The result was 10 UT Martin turnovers in the first nine minutes of the second half. The Rebels weren't especially prolific in the early portion of the second half, making just one triple and turning it over eight times themselves, but that defensive effort gave them the platform they needed to establish a foothold in a game that appeared to be getting away fast.

Myles Burns comes up big for Ole Miss

Desperate for some scoring support for the prolific Matthew Murrell, Ole Miss got it from Myles Burns.

The former NAIA standout turned in his best game as a Rebel, finishing with 13 points. The highlight came via a vicious one-handed dunk on the break that helped put a stamp on the Ole Miss victory.

Burns was key on the glass, too, finishing as Ole Miss' leading rebounder with eight boards, while also adding five steals at the head of Davis' 1-3-1.

"I don't like losing," Burns said. "My competitive spirit just kicks in."

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Rebels can't buy a first-half bucket

Ole Miss, which has been prone to stretches of offensive frustration so far in this young season, suffered a prolonged one in the first half Friday.

The Rebels shot just 36.4% from the field in the first 20 minutes against the Skyhawks. They struggled to carve out open looks anywhere on the court, and they didn't get bailed out from beyond the arc, either, shooting just 25% from distance in the first half.

UT Martin, by comparison, couldn't miss. The Skyhawks went 6-11 from 3-point land and connected on 51.6% of their first-half field goals overall.

"I feel like they shocked us," Ole Miss forward Robert Allen said. "...That's been a theme for us. A bad theme. We just need to start coming out and delivering a blow instead of receiving it."

What's next

Ole Miss will have nearly a full week off before it heads to Orlando for the ESPN Events Invitational. The Rebels open that tournament against Stanford (1-2) on Thursday (12:30 p.m., ESPNU).

David Eckert covers Ole Miss for the Clarion Ledger. Email him at deckert@gannett.com or reach him on Twitter @davideckert98.