Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis talked about poor offense affecting defense when the Rebels lost 66-56 at home to Mississippi State on Saturday.
Three days later the Rebels won with defense amid second-half offensive struggles and knocked off No. 24 Missouri 60-53 at Mizzou Arena Tuesday night.
The loss to MSU sucked the wind from Ole Miss in the NCAA Tournament conversation, but a Quadrant 1 victory and a sweep of Missouri may keep a flicker of hope alive.
The Rebels play at Vanderbilt Saturday then host Kentucky on Tuesday. They may have a game added on March 6.
Davis said guards Devontae Shuler and Jarkel Joiner approached him on Sunday and told him they felt like they needed the day off. He reluctantly scrapped his practice plan and let his players lead.
“That was huge for us,” Ole Miss center Romello White said. “We really, really needed that. We needed that day off to recover and get our minds right.”
In a 50-50 game at Missouri (14-7, 7-7 SEC) with less than 2 minutes to play Shuler got a jumper in the paint to drop.
The Rebels (13-9, 8-7 SEC) followed that up with a stop in their 2-3 zone, and KJ Buffen hit a layup with an assist from Luis Rodriguez.
After one more stop the Rebels were in the advantage position of forcing Missouri to foul. Joiner, who was only 1 for7 from the floor, went 6 for 6 from the free throw line in the final 46 seconds to secure the win.
“We beat a really determined Missouri team. They came back and took that lead on us … to do what we did down the stretch, I’m really proud of our team,” Davis said.
Ole Miss led by 13 after a Rodriguez free throw with 17:13 left.
However, the Rebels shot just 33 percent in the second half, a figure they struggled to achieve after missing 10 of their first 11 shots.
Missouri center Jeremiah Tilmon, all 6-foot-10, 260-pounds, made it tough on the Rebels blocking four shots and affecting many others.
But the Rebels’ 2-3 zone bothered Tilmon on the offensive end and kept Missouri’s guards from getting in the lane and creating angles and space.
The Tigers took the lead with 9:25 left but could not take over.
Shuler, after his 1-for-15 shooting performance against MSU, was 6 for 17 from the field and led Ole Miss with 14 points.
Davis said he hugged Shuler and Joiner after the game.
“That’s one of the best ones we’ve had in the short three years that I’ve been here,” Davis said. “We had played so well to get ourselves in the mix then against State … That one stung me. I just didn’t think our team brought it. I told them I trusted them, and they responded well.”