Ole Miss was hosting then-No. 10 ranked Missouri. The game carried postseason implications. Having suffered two non-conference losses, the Rebels, who had beaten Tennessee to open Southeastern Conference play, were in need of a resume-building win.
A win wouldn’t come easy. Ole Miss had last knocked off a top-10 team in 2011. But Murphy Holloway scored 22 points to lead Ole Miss, equal to the points scored by Missouri in the first half. The Tigers finished with all of 49 points in the game, their fewest points scored since 2003.
Ole Miss coasted to a 64-49 win.
Now a month later, the teams meet again today at 12 p.m. CST on CBS. And unlike that Saturday in mid-January, Missouri won’t be without its top scorer, Lawrence Bowers, as well as Tony Criswell, who was in his first game back with a broken third metacarpal in his left hand.
The stage is set again for an all-important game. Both teams are ranked, each with NCAA tournament aspirations.
“It’s very important, ‘cause it’s the next one,” Holloway said. “Another quality opponent, another quality win, if you get that win. I think they have a chip on their shoulder. We will, too. We haven’t really proven ourselves. It’ll be a good game.”
Ole Miss, ranked No. 23 in the most recent USA Today/Coaches’ poll, is 18-4 overall and 7-2 in league play following a blowout win over in-state rival Mississippi State on Wednesday.
“We had to stop the bleeding,” head coach Andy Kennedy said of the win, which snapped a two-game losing streak.
Winning can be a cure-all. The Rebels have certainly suffered their share of setbacks in recent weeks, on and off the court.
On top of back-to-back losses to Kentucky and Florida, top reserves Aaron Jones and Nick Williams were injured last week. Jones is out for the year with a torn ACL, while Williams is working his way back from a season-long battle with plantar fasciitis.
Kennedy had hoped junior forward Demarco Cox would be eligible to return from a stress fracture in his foot sometime in the next two weeks. His return would have helped offset the loss of Jones, the primary backup to Holloway and senior forward Reginald Buckner.
However, as announced on Thursday, Cox, too, is out for the season.
True freshman Terry Brutus has assumed Jones’ role. His game, as was proven in the last two games, is a work in progress. He scored two points and grabbed three rebounds in 12 minutes at Florida, and followed with just three points and one steal in six minutes on Wednesday.
“I thought Terry was really good at Florida in a pretty tough environment against a pretty good team,” Kennedy said. “I thought he gave us quality minutes. Not so good (against Mississippi State).”
Not all is lost, though. While he didn’t play against Mississippi State, Williams, the Rebels’ first man off the bench, could make his return against Missouri. He was averaging the fifth-most minutes per game and the fourth-most points (9.4 ppg) prior to injury.
“He’s made huge progress,” Kennedy said of Williams following the Mississippi State win. “He’s still got pain in his foot; it’s just in a different area, which is to be expected just based on the procedure. My hope is that he’ll be available Saturday. I’m going to do what he tells me. If he’s ready, I’ll put him in.”
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Ole Miss will need all hands on deck at Missouri, a team ranked No. 21 in the Associated Press poll and No. 20 by the USA Today/Coaches’ poll. The Tigers are a perfect 12-0 at home after beating Auburn last week.
Missouri boasts a 16-5 overall record and 5-4 mark in the SEC. And in an SEC filled with sub-par to bad teams, Missouri stands as one of the few quality opponents left on the schedule.
Ole Miss, with an RPI at No. 48, has nine SEC games left. Missouri enters the game with an RPI ranked No. 33, according to CBSSports.com.
“Missouri’s a good basketball team,” Kennedy said. “They’re playing well at full strength. I’ve never been to Columbia, Missouri and played in their new arena. Looking forward to the challenge. They’re an excellent team, so we’re going to have to be on top of our game.”
Missouri is 78-4 at Mizzou Arena dating back to the 2008-09 season. Head coach Frank Haith is 27-1 at home.