By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
NEW ORLEANS – For whatever reason, facing Auburn brings out the best in Ole Miss’ Murphy Holloway and the latest instance didn’t disappoint.
In two previous appearances against the Tigers, Holloway registered double-doubles, charting 11 points and 11 boards in the first meeting of the two squads this season, and pouring in 20 points and 11 rebounds in the second meeting.
The 6-foot-7 junior forward delivered again on Thursday night in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at New Orleans Arena, leading his Rebels to a 68-54 victory against the Tigers. He finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds to lead the way for his team.
His strong presence around the glass helped Ole Miss (19-12) out-rebound Auburn 45-31.
“I think he has a nose for the ball, literally,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. “Certain guys seem to be around the ball. He’s got very fast hands and good length. He’s a strong kid – 240 pounds – and I Think what separates him is the fact that his second and third bounce typically is as high as his first. He can keep balls alive.”
Holloway believes that instinct extends beyond snatching down the ball and also to positioning on the floor. It appeared on Thursday night as if he was always in the right place at the right time.
“When the shot goes up, coach always tells us to get opposite,” Holloway said. “They missed most of the balls opposite and I was right there to get them.”
That rebounding edge was exactly what Ole Miss needed early in the game, when it was struggling to get its shots to go in. Holloway had reached his double-double by halftime in helping the Rebels clean the glass for put-backs.
“We were struggling with our first-shot offense early,” Kennedy said. “We may have just been overly excited because of the game and the importance of the game. And the only way that we were scoring was off second-chance points. And really, there’s many people that would say that our best offense is a missed shot. That’s what we do. And when we have had success, now having won four straight, that’s really been the formula: make timely shots.”
Ole Miss advances to Friday’s SEC Tournament quarterfinal round, where it will face second-seeded Tennessee. The Vols, who at one point in the season seemed an unlikely pick for a first-round league tournament bye, have come on strong late in the season and have won eight of their last nine games.
Kennedy knows Tennessee will pose a tough challenge for his team.
“I think they’re a physical team, they’re a tenacious team and they’re a team that plays to its strengths on both ends,” Kennedy said. “I think they play to their strengths, which is a tribute to [Tennessee head coach] Cuonzo [Martin].”
The Vols captured a 73-60 victory against the Rebels in the only regular-season meeting between the two teams, which took place on Feb. 22 in Knoxville.
“We did a lot of things that we’re going to have to improve upon tomorrow night in order for us to advance,” Kennedy said. “But the one area that allowed us to win the game was that we were dominant on the glass. They’re going to make you beat them over the top and you’ve got to finish strong at the rim.”