January 6, 2018 10:38:00 PM
OXFORD -- Ole Miss men's basketball coach Andy Kennedy has been looking for his team's identity all season.
On a personal note, sophomore guard Breein Tyree has been doing the same thing.
Both take a huge step in the right direction after Tyree hit two critical shots in the closing minutes of a 64-58 victory against Mississippi State on Saturday at The Pavilion.
Kennedy said Tyree -- the team's point guard -- hasn't been as vocal as he would like in practice. Kennedy also admits it is hard for a player to be vocal when his shots aren't falling.
A 6-for-12 day from the field and 16 points overall might help Tyree become more vocal, especially after Ole Miss erased an 11-point deficit in the final 10 minutes, 39 seconds.
"In my 12 years here, you think I would have seen a little bit of it all by now," Kennedy said. "This team has dumbfounded me. It has been that way all year. We just really need an identity. There have been a lot of nights where you didn't know what you were getting. You can't live like that in this league."
Tyree took his matchup against sophomore Lamar Peters personally. Due to offensive struggles, Peters has been used as a sixth man off the bench. A year ago, he was one of the league's impact freshmen.
"Lamar was all-conference this and all-conference that," Tyree said. "As a competitor, you want to rise up against that. When you are in a position to compete, you just want to step on their throats. I attend Ole Miss. This is a rival game. You want to represent your school in this setting."
Ole Miss (9-6, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) won for the eighth time in the last nine series meetings, its longest stretch of success in the rivalry. Ole Miss also has won seven straight on its campus, including all three at The Pavilion, where a crowd of 8,664 finally got energized in the closing minutes.
"I don't think it is mental or anything like that," Kennedy said. "Each game is different. A different set of players plays each game. I have been on both ends of the spectrum. Being on this end is more fun. I am just really proud of this team for finding a way when the shots weren't falling."
Kennedy said early season non-conference home losses to South Dakota State (99 points allowed), Virginia Tech (83 points), and Illinois State (101 points) were tough to take for a defensive-minded coach.
"Have to say the biggest thing I am proud of is how far this team has traveled defensively," said Kennedy, who won his 100th SEC game Saturday. "We have built this program on defense. What was going on earlier was not acceptable. The sky is the limit for this team if we can figure some things out on the offensive end."
Kennedy also didn't like what he saw in the first half when MSU built a 13-point lead.
Kennedy changed to a 1-3-1 defense late in the half to help save some fouls and to push the Bulldogs further away from the basket.
The change delivered mixed results in the first 20 minutes. In the second half, it worked perfectly as MSU (13-2, 1-1) scored eight points in the final 10:39 and was 0-for-13 from 3-point range.
"We had four good looks there in the final couple of minutes," MSU coach Ben Howland said. "Tyson (Carter) had two different chances to put us up four there in the last couple of minutes. He had good looks. One went all the way down and rimmed out."
Tyree had no such misfortune with three critical baskets that sparked the rally. Deandre Burnett led the way with 21 points.
"We just need to take this confidence level (into the game with) Auburn," Tyree said. "It's a long season. You can't get too high or too low. You just have to keep working at it."
Kennedy said the team still has 15 league games to find answers.
"Mississippi State was (top 60) in RPI," Kennedy said. "The final 15 games you won't find anyone below around 110 or 120, and we have a non-conference game with Texas. There is still so much to play for. The guys know that and understand that. The margin for error is reduced but we just keep going."
Ole Miss shot 33.9 percent from the field and was outrebounded by four. In the end, though, it did enough to win.
"There is no ugly win this rivalry," Kennedy said. "When you beat Mississippi State, it is a beautiful win."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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