The Ole Miss Rebels (19-6, 8-4 SEC) head east this weekend to play the reeling South Carolina Gamecocks (12-13, 2-10), who are losers of six straight. The Gamecocks haven't won since Jan. 26 when they knocked off Arkansas, 75-54, in Columbia. On the other hand, the Rebels enter the game fresh off a thrilling 84-74 overtime win against Georgia.
Ole Miss should have no trouble against Frank Martin's club, right?
Conventional logic would lead one to believe that, but the Rebels are 1-9 all-time when playing at South Carolina. The Gamecocks are one of the weaker SEC teams this year (2-10 SEC), but Ole Miss has struggled on the road as of late. In fact, Andy Kennedy's club has dropped their past three road games: Florida, Missouri and most recently Texas A&M.
While the Rebels rely heavily upon offensive production from the SEC's leading scorer Marshall Henderson (19.7 PPG), South Carolina doesn't have just one or two main scorers. They currently have four players averaging between 9.9 and 11.7 points per game.
Unfortunately for Ole Miss, the trend has been as goes Henderson as go the Rebels.
When Henderson stays out of foul trouble and doesn't get a cold hand, he's lethal. But when he does have an off night or gets in early foul trouble, the impact on his team becomes readily evident. Look no further than the Rebels' most recent outing against Georgia. Henderson got in foul trouble early in the first half. Then he struggled a little bit to get back in sync before the final minutes of the game.
Ole Miss trailed the Bulldogs with just over three minutes left in regulation, and all of Oxford held their collective NCAA Tournament breaths. Suddenly, Marshall Henderson turned into Super Marshall, scoring the final 14 points of regulation to get the Rebels into overtime. The Rebels went on to win 84-74, thanks to renewed team spirit and play.
Andy Kennedy and the Rebels understand the importance of each of their remaining six conference games. More than two losses the rest of the way, and the Rebels will likely need to advance well into the SEC basketball tournament to receive an NCAA Tournament bid.
If the Rebels don't want to be a bubble team come Selection Sunday, they need to take care of business on the road this weekend at South Carolina.
After the Gamecocks, Ole Miss' toughest remaining games will come at home against Texas A&M and Alabama. It's never an easy path to March, but the remaining schedule is about as good as Kennedy could have drawn up.
Knowing the importance of each remaining game, look for the Rebels to cruise in Columbia.
And by the way, a win makes Kennedy the all-time win leader at Ole Miss with 145 victories.
Ole Miss 82 - South Carolina 68
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