OXFORD • There’s no trophy awarded for a single month, but the February championship is on the Ole Miss radar.
After starting SEC play 1-7, Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis gave his players a simple challenge: Win February.
Things didn’t start well with a road loss at LSU. Since then the Rebels have posted back-to-back SEC wins for the first time this season and have done so in dominant fashion by an average margin of 16 points against South Carolina and Florida.
Both were at home, and that’s where the Rebels will be tonight at 6 against rival Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs (15-8, 6-4 SEC) have won six of their last seven after an 0-3 SEC start.
“The schedule kind of comes in our favor, no easy teams, but at least we’re at home,” Davis said.
Prior to last week the Rebels (12-11, 3-7 SEC) had played six of their last nine on the road.
At home they’d lost second-half leads – two by double-figures – against Arkansas, LSU and Auburn.
“We didn’t look like a 1-and-whatever team, we didn’t feel like a 2-7 team coming in, but we were one. You’ve got to come in our gym every day, come in our locker room every day and watch how our guys go about their business,” Davis said. “We just totally shifted to trying to win February. I think our guys have bought into that, and we have another opportunity against State.”
Tonight’s game will be the last in a three-game homestand. The Rebels are at Kentucky Saturday as they begin a stretch of three out of four games on the road.
Though Ole Miss held off a second-half surge by Georgia to win 70-60 in Athens on Jan. 25, other road losses were not nearly as close as home losses.
Florida beat a short-handed Ole Miss team by 14, Tennessee won by 25 and LSU was in complete control before the Rebels whittled their deficit to 10 at the finish.
One of the keys in Saturday’s 68-51 win over Florida was physical defense from under-sized post players, particularly 6-foot-7 sophomore KJ Buffen.
Buffen will need a strong effort against 6-10, 250-pound sophomore Reggie Perry, who is averaging a double-double at 17.4 points and an SEC-leading 10.0 rebounds, and 6-11, 255-pound center Abdul Ado.
In such matchups Buffen says he focuses on staying lower and having a stronger base “so it’s harder for him to get to the basket. They’re all talented. We’ve just got to defend.”