March 5, 2013 11:02:41 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
Andy Kennedy said he has likely seen more than a hundred University of Mississippi-Mississippi State University basketball games at Humphrey Coliseum.
The latest one may have been the most painful.
MSU's 73-67 victory against Ole Miss on Saturday was a damaging blow to the NCAA tournament résumé for the Rebels (21-8, 10-6 Southeastern Conference), who are 4-6 in their last 10 games. Ole Miss will try to regroup at 8 tonight (ESPNU) when it plays host to the University of Alabama (19-10, 11-5) at Tad Smith Coliseum.
"Mississippi State, I thought, really, really played with a sense of urgency in defending their home floor. For us, it was a damaging loss to our profile," Kennedy said Monday in the SEC media teleconference.
Kennedy has to like the fact his team will play tonight at home. Ole Miss, which is 15-1 at home, has lost five games in a row away from Tad Smith Coliseum. The last two -- to the University of South Carolina and MSU -- have come against teams outside of the RPI top 200 and at the bottom of the league standings.
After the game Saturday, Kennedy said Ole Miss needs to win tonight on Senior Night and Saturday at LSU and needs to make a deep run in the SEC tournament next week in Nashville, Tenn.
"All we can do now is to get ready for the next game," Kennedy said. "Our final two regular-season games will determine where we are as it relates to seeding in the SEC tournament, and we know we will have to go to Nashville and get some work done."
Kennedy spent the final part of his postgame media conference at Humphrey Coliseum defending his record as the all-time winningest men's basketball coach at Ole Miss and deflecting speculation about his job security to Director of Athletics Ross Bjork.
"That question should be asked to the person that's in charge of my job," Kennedy said Saturday. "Not me. I'm the one who coaches this team at Ole Miss. I'm very proud of a lot of the things we've done. Am I satisfied? Not close. But I work at the leisure of my employer and if he tells me today, 'Andy, you're no longer the head coach at Ole Miss,' I'm going to thank him."
Kennedy has a 63.2 winning percentage in seven seasons at Ole Miss, but he has never finished more than two games above .500 in conference play, and is 64-64 in SEC games. Kennedy also hasn't led the Rebels to the NCAA tournament. This season will be his sixth with 20 or more victories.
"I understand the frustration of fans," Kennedy said. "I feel that same frustration. You're talking about a guy who has blood, sweat, and tears in this for seven years. I've been dancing on this fence for a long time."
Kennedy, a Parade All-American out of Louisville High School after attending Winston Academy, which also is in Louisville, understands the Ole Miss-MSU rivalry as well as anyone. He has siblings who graduated from MSU, and despite saying repeatedly the games against MSU are just two of 18 SEC tilts on the schedule, he was perplexed by his team's lack of effort Saturday.
"(MSU) played like the team fighting for their NCAA tournament lives and we played very poorly," Kennedy said.
Bjork told The Jackson Clarion-Ledger after Ole Miss' loss at South Carolina on Feb. 20 that the administration will "focus on the rest of the season and supporting our players and coaches at the highest level."
Ole Miss, which began the season 17-2, leads the SEC and ranks sixth in the nation in scoring offense (78.8 points per game). Junior guard Marshall Henderson leads the SEC in scoring (19.5 ppg.).
n In related news, Henderson and Murphy Holloway were named Monday finalists for the C Spire Howell Trophy, which is awarded annually to the state of Mississippi's best male college basketball player.
Ole Miss' Valencia McFarland also was named a finalist for the C Spire Gillom Trophy.
Henderson is second the in nation averaging 3.93 3-pointers per game. This season, he broke Ole Miss' single-season record with 114 3-pointers, which is tied for sixth in SEC history.
Holloway is the 23rd player in SEC history to score at least 1,250 points and pull down 1,000 boards in their career, a list that includes Shaquille O'Neal, Dan Issell, Bob Pettit, and Bernard King.