No. 24 Ole Miss bids to match school record in clash vs. Bryant

Dec 16, 2023; San Antonio, Texas, USA;  Mississippi Rebels guard Jaylen Murray (5) shoots in the second half against the California Golden Bears at the Frost Bank Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Ole Miss and Bryant both put together challenging nonconference schedules with an eye toward peaking in March.

Both teams are satisfied with how things have gone as they close out the nonconference portions of their schedules on Sunday afternoon in Oxford, Miss.

The No. 24 Rebels (12-0) can tie the school record for the longest winning streak to start a season by defeating the Bulldogs.

“We’re just continuing to grow,” first-year Ole Miss coach Chris Beard said. “We’re definitely a work in progress. I think over these first 12 games we’ve shown and we’ve proven that we can play good basketball whether it be on the road, whether it be neutral-site games, whether it be Top 25 teams, teams from the ACC and Pac 12.

“We put our guys through a lot these first 12 games. I think we’ve shown a lot of signs of improvement, (but) definitely a lot of growth yet to be accomplished if we’re going to have the kind of season that we’d like to have in conference play.”

Ole Miss, which begins Southeastern Conference play at No. 6 Tennessee on Jan. 6, won true road games against Temple and UCF, defeated California in San Antonio and Southern Miss in Biloxi, Miss., as well as power conference programs N.C. State and Memphis in Oxford.

The Rebels have made at least 10 3-pointers in each of their last three games. They shot a season-best 57.9 percent (11 of 19) from beyond the arc while having a season-high point total in an 89-72 victory against Southern Miss on Dec. 23.

“We have different weapons offensively,” Beard said. “We have different ways we can play.”

Bryant (8-6) has clinched a winning record in a nonconference schedule that included losses to major conference programs such as Rutgers, Xavier and Cincinnati. But its signature win was a 61-52 decision on Nov. 18 on the road against Florida Atlantic, a Final Four team last season.

Bulldogs coach Phil Martelli Jr. said the victory over the Owls has proven to be “legit” because FAU has ascended to No. 7 in the most recent AP poll, the highest ranking in school history.

“That was a great moment,” Martelli said of the victory. “(But) it can’t be the moment of the season. It’s something we can always draw back on, but that’s true of all these games. I just hope when we look back at the season we can look back and say there were a whole bunch of those moments and not have it be just that singular one.”

The Bulldogs, who play their America East Conference opener at UMBC on Jan. 6, have scored 100-plus points in their last two games. They posted a 104-86 home victory against Drexel in their last outing on Dec. 22.

“We’ve got to learn and keep growing because what matters for us is January, February and March,” Martelli said. “You’ve got to learn along the way whether you win or lose and I think we’ve done a good job of that. I’m pretty pleased with the way they’ve grown up.”

–Field Level Media

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