First-year Ole Miss head basketball coach Chris Beard has brought real enthusiasm to Oxford, and that was on full display Saturday afternoon when the Rebels (7-0) took down Memphis (5-2) in front of a rowdy crowd inside the Pavilion in Oxford.
In a game where the Rebels trailed by as many as 11 and were down for more than 33 of the 40 minutes of play, Beard’s group showed toughness — highlighted by a heroic performance from Saint Peter’s transfer and Bronx, New York native Jaylen “Juju” Murray.
Ole Miss jumped off to a quick 7-0 lead within the first two minutes of play. Auburn transfer Allen Flanigan recorded the first series of buckets.
Memphis adjusted and not only chipped away at the Rebels’ lead but also amassed a double-digit advantage on the scoreboard near the midway point of the first half. Forward David Jones played a key role in getting the Tigers on track as he took advantage of open looks and hit tough shot after tough shot to give his squad momentum.
A 16-7 run by Ole Miss put the team back within one point of the Tigers just under the seven-minute mark. Both teams traded blows ahead of the intermission. Memphis separated just enough to hold a 37-30 lead at halftime.
A rollercoaster of a second half then ensued.
The Rebels struck first blood with 7-foot-5 center Jamarion Sharp opening things up with a dunk to get the crowd fired up. Memphis, however, was unphased. the Tigers went on a 6-0 run to take their largest lead of the game.
Rebels guard T.J. Caldwell hit a pair of shots for a five-point swing to move the pendulum in the opposite direction. Ole Miss continued to climb back into the contest. Recently cleared big man Moussa Cisse, who began his college career at Memphis, threw down a dunk to put his team within two near the 15-minute mark.
Then the first portion of the Juju Murray show began. The point guard went on a scoring run of his own, recording five of the Rebels’ next seven points to reclaim the lead for the first time since early in the first half.
With the score at 53-51 in favor of the Rebels, Memphis did not lay down as the Tigers responded by knocking down numerous contested shots to pull away with a 65-59 lead with under 10 minutes left in the game.
Flanigan, who sat for the bulk of the half due to foul trouble, checked back into the game following the Tigers’ run and had an immediate impact, scoring eight of the team’s 13 baskets to put Ole Miss back on top once again. The Tigers, on the very next possession, scored to take a 73-72 lead with 2:30 left to play.
Murray proceeded to take matters into his own hands, scoring the next seven points, countering two Memphis shots that tied the game, and ultimately being the guy to step up when the game mattered most.
Following a made free throw by Jackson native Jaemyn Brakefield, Ole Miss, with an 80-77 lead, set up their defense with just over six seconds left in regulation. Memphis guard Jahvon Quinerly, an Alabama transfer, took the ball up the court and fired a potentially game-tying three, but missed it, securing the victory for the Rebels.
“He played great tonight … To have nine assists and one turnover in a big-time, big-boy game this afternoon in Oxford — it was impressive,” Beard said of Murray’s performance. “I didn’t think there was any panic. I love how he just fought back and went and made the next play. We call that having answers in our program. That’s exactly what he did.”
Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway also tipped his hat to the Ole Miss guard, saying, “He was a problem because we couldn’t guard him.”
Ole Miss had three guys over the double-digit scoring threshold — Murray with 22, Matthew Murrell with 20, and Flanigan with 18. Brakefield’s six rebounds were the most for the team. Murray posted nine assists to compliment his stellar performance.
Jones led Memphis in scoring with 22 points. He and Quinerly had seven rebounds a piece in the Tigers’ heartbreaking loss just over one hour down the road.
One of the biggest differences between the two teams was displayed at the three-point line. Ole Miss shot at a high volume from behind the arc, going 11/22, or 50%. Memphis, on the other hand only knocked down three of 18 attempts, a 16.7% average.
Next up for Ole Miss is a Tuesday night match against Mount St. Mary’s at home. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. central and the game will be broadcast on ESPN+ as well as participating SuperTalk Mississippi stations.
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