LAS VEGAS — Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy knows a trip to Las Vegas can be distracting. So, he let his Rebels do their thing when they arrived Saturday. That could be one of the reasons they fell flat Monday and suffered their first loss of the season, to Utah.
That loss he said, however, is the reason his team responded on Wednesday night.
Deandre Burnett had 18 points and a career-high tying eight assists to lead Mississippi to a 79-62 rout of Rice in the Heavyweight bracket’s consolation game at the MGM Grand Main Event.
Terence Davis added 15 points in just 17 minutes after getting into foul trouble and Devontae Shuler scored 13 for the Rebels.
“You’re out here in Las Vegas, it’s easy to get your energy zapped, just for all that’s going on,” Kennedy said. “This is business for us, it’s the first time some of these kids ever been to Vegas, they got to see some stuff, but ultimately we’re here to do what we need to do.
“We were disappointed in our performance two nights ago, we’ve had a couple of days to sit around, stew on it … for two days we’ve been talking about playing at an SEC pace. I thought we picked it up and took control.”
Using a tenacious full-court press, and red-hot shooting from the perimeter, the Rebels bolted to an early lead. But a scoreless drought of more than six minutes saw them fall behind by six, 27-21, with 6:05 left. But Mississippi scored 19 — including 10 by Burnett — of the final 27 first-half points to lead 40-35 at the break.
The Rebels (4-1) found their shooting touch from long-range, hitting 6 of 15 from beyond the 3-point line in the second half to pull away. And as Ole Miss caught fire over the final 20 minutes, the Owls couldn’t keep up, shooting 27.3 percent from the field, including just 2 of 14 (14.3 percent) from 3-point range, in the second half.
“We got stops, it came from the defensive end,” Burnett said. “First half they were shooting a high percentage, knocking down all of their shots. Second half we buckled down, turned them over a couple times and got a couple stops down the stretch. We were scoring, we just had to get some stops on the defensive end.”
Ole Miss hit 12-of-32 3-pointers overall, while Rice made just 7 of 31.
Kennedy said he was pleased with the way his team shared the ball, with 19 assists of the 29 made field goals, and in limiting the Owls to second-chance opportunities.
“Which is very important against a team that is going to play 40 minutes of match-up zone defense,” Kennedy said. “Our ball movement was excellent (and) we were able to get consecutive stops. Against Utah, our first-shot defense was not that bad, they hurt us on the offensive glass, which led to scoring opportunities, and they took advantage of them, which is to their credit. Tonight, we did a much better job of guarding and ending the possession with a rebound.”
Connor Cashaw led the Owls (1-4) with 24 points on 8-of-20 shooting, including 4 of 8 beyond the arc.
“I thought we played 40 pretty good minutes in Las Vegas, and I thought we played 40 pretty bad ones,” said first-year Rice coach Scott Pera, whose Owls lost to UNLV by 27 on Monday. “I think our preparation has been really good. It’d be one thing if I didn’t think they were engaged to improve, really locked into the scouting report, or really working hard to break through. We have a really challenging schedule, we knew that going into the season. We’ve got to learn how to win. My focus every day is to try to get these guys better.”
Mississippi: The Rebels are still looking for someone to establish a presence in their frontcourt after the departure of Sebastian Saiz, as 7-footer Dominik Olejniczak is still trying to blend into the lineup. The Drake transfer was expected to fill the vacancy, but is averaging just 16.6 minutes, 6.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
Rice: The Owls continue to struggle in their first year under Pera, who took over when Mike Rhoades left for VCU. Rhoades led the Owls to their second-highest victory total in school history and just their eighth 20-win season. Rice, which didn’t suffer its fourth loss until New Year’s Eve last season, is being outscored by 16.5 points in their setbacks.
Mississippi takes five days off before hosting South Dakota State on Tuesday.
Rice returns home and will play St. Thomas on Saturday.